Welfare programs often account for a state’s largest and fastest-growing budget line items, and as these programs grow, the likelihood of waste, fraud, and abuse grows too. Welfare fraud robs resources from those who are truly needy, and stories like this are infuriating.
Vida Ofori Causey, a 45-year-old convenience store owner in Worchester, Massachusetts, was charged in a federal court last week after she pled guilty to a multimillion dollar food stamp fraud scheme.
Food stamps are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), and eligible low-income individuals and families receive monetary benefits they can exchange for approved food items at retail store that are authorized to accept SNAP payments.
According to a press release from the Department of Justice, Causey purchased SNAP benefits from recipients at a discounted value, about fifty cents on the dollar, instead of exchanging them for food. Over a four and half year period, Causey defrauded the USDA of approximately $3,638,900 in SNAP funds in total.
Normally, SNAP benefits cannot be used for alcohol, cigarettes, or other restricted items. But since Causey was paying cash to the SNAP recipients, they could then use that cash to buy restricted items, or even illegal drugs, as The Daily Caller pointed out.
The charges against Causey include one count of conspiracy to commit SNAP benefits fraud, one count of SNAP fraud, and one count of money laundering. A federal district court judge will sentence Causey soon, based on the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which provide for maximum sentences of five years in prison and three years supervised release for the conspiracy charge, 20 years in prison and three years supervised release for SNAP fraud, and 10 years in prison and three years supervised release for money laundering. Causey is also facing a fine of up to $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss, whichever is greater, for each charge, plus forfeiture and restitution.
Fraud in the food stamp program has long been a major concern for many taxpayers, and while there are some states like Maine and Kansas working hard to curb and stop widespread abuse, reports like this from Massachusetts show there’s still much work to be done. With the number of SNAP recipients exploding from 17 million participants in 2000 to over 47 million in 2014, the potential for fraud and waste of taxpayer dollars has increased as well.
Causey is facing a lot of trouble: years in prison and repayment of the millions she defrauded from the government. But the bigger question still remains, how she was able to commit so much fraud for so long before she was caught – and how many other store owners are running the same kind of schemes?
Just two months ago, I covered this story about three brothers who ran a store in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and fraudulently collected nearly $1.3 million in SNAP benefits. And a few weeks ago, here at HotAir I highlighted reforms out of Maine that are aimed at stopping folks with luxury items such as jet skis and motorhomes and large amounts of assets from continuing to receive SNAP benefits and the all too common problem of EBT cards being traded for illegal drugs.
Clearly waste, fraud, and abuse is happening in the SNAP program and other welfare programs too. Taxpayers deserve to be protected from the exorbitant costs and legislators across the country need to look at proven reforms to stop the scam.