(HOUSTON) — Four people are indicted for food stamp trafficking, and many more indictments will likely be forthcoming.
Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson says some Lone Star Card holders are selling their EBT benefits for for cash instead of feeding their families.
“The stores exchange the benefits for cash, usually paying only 50-percent of the value of the benefits on the card,” Anderson tells NEWS 92 FM.
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The following suspects are indicted on 3rd degree felony charges following a lengthy investigation by Anderson’s office and the Office of Inspector General, in cooperation with the USDA: Allen Nguyen, 37; Loan Lai, 28; Arvind Patel, 55; and Roshni Patel, 27.
Nguyen and Lai own Danny’s NL Seafood Market, and the Patels own C&M Grocers.
Anderson says the real loser in this scheme is the taxpayer.
“Stores are making money off of it, [and] people are getting cash, using it for illegal drugs, alcohol, cigarettes — instead of using it for food to feed their families,” she says.
While both the Lone Star Card holders and the store owners are willing participants, Anderson says she’s going after the store owners for the time being.
“If we cut off the source, we can greatly decrease the problem,” Anderson says.
Anderson says all the stores being investigated are small, family-owned stores — and many of them are not stores at all.
“They don’t even have food on their shelves, and what food they do have in there is expired,” says Anderson. “So it’s really just a way to make money — people know they can go there and get cash for their benefits.”
If convicted, each of the four face up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.
Anderson says more indictments are forthcoming.
“The USDA is actively investigating more stores in the Harris County area, and we’re expecting several more indictments in the upcoming weeks,” Anderson says.