- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 1, 2015

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A special unit dedicated to combatting food stamp fraud in South Carolina has secured its first convictions, according to the state’s top prosecutor.

Last week, half a dozen people pleaded guilty to food stamp fraud in Laurens and Greenwood counties, Attorney General Alan Wilson told The Associated Press. Five other people have been charged in Greenwood, and Wilson’s office said that the fraud was committed at a single retail establishment there.

In all of the Greenwood cases, the total amount trafficked totals more than $35,000. In all, the special unit has recovered nearly $21,000 in restitution, according to Wilson’s office, which says more investigations are under way across the state.

At the beginning of this year, Wilson’s office began dedicating a prosecutor solely to prosecuting fraud within the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The pilot project is supported by a nearly $320,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and Wilson has said he got the idea after taking a look at his office’s efforts to go after people defrauding the Medicaid system.

“Food stamp fraud is a moral outrage, and those who commit this crime must be held accountable,” Wilson said in a statement provided this week to The AP. “The vast majority of those receiving government assistance use their benefits properly, but there are those who are motivated by personal greed. When this fraud is committed it not only hurts the tax payer but it hurts those who truly need this assistance.”

Wilson said some recipients of the federally funded benefits are improperly using the benefits cards like ATM cards, giving them to vendors in return for cash payouts instead of using them to buy approved food items.

“People are redeeming these cards and using the money to purchase anything,” the Republican prosecutor said earlier this year. “It could go to strip club, a liquor store, buying a Gucci bag - something it was never intended for.”

As of December, more than 385,000 South Carolina households were participating in the SNAP program. Through the third quarter of the fiscal year in 2014, the USDA had imposed sanctions, through fines or temporary disqualifications, on more than 500 stores nationwide and permanently disqualified more than 1,000 stores for illegally exchanging SNAP benefits, according to DSS.

The same USDA program that’s underwriting South Carolina’s effort is helping develop similar programs in other states, including California, New York, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Texas.

___

Kinnard can be reached at https://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide