Three businesses charged in welfare fraud investigation

January 09, 2018 02:09 PM

JOHNSTOWN – During a recent undercover operation involving Food Stamp fraud, an Electronic Benefits Card was swapped for cash at a corner store. Then, that cash was used to buy cocaine on the street. So says an investigator who headed up a three-month-long operation into fraud by retailers.

"This is a reflection of the other end of the fraud," said Fulton County Sheriff Richard Giardino. "This is fraud by the retailers that we usually don't see law enforcement agencies going after, usually don't encounter."

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An undercover agent was sent into certain local stores to buy hot food, non-food items and other items not authorized by the Food Stamp program, investigators said.

"We saw spikes in EBT usages at some of our smaller retailers that really didn't coincide with the products that they were selling," said Kristina Ruggeri with the county’s Dept. of Social Services.

Other items sold through the Food Stamp program and gathered as evidence – alcohol, cigarettes, smokeless tobacco, condoms and cherries. A few items not displayed included gasoline and even hot foods like subs, grinders and pizza.

"We were able to buy all kinds of hot meals. In fact, we gave a few of those out to the local homeless on the side of the road as we were going through," said Keith Manners, an investigator with the Fulton County Sheriff’s Office.

A byproduct of this fraud is a way to combat the opioid and addiction crisis, according to the District Attorney.

"Well, you give me $50 cash back and you take that $100 (EBT card) and do a false or fictitious charge at your business," explained DA Chad Brown. "That's what these businesses, some of them are doing. That's a big problem because then they're putting $50 in the hands of a drug user."

Three Gloversville stores were singled-out and the focus of the investigation: Country Farms Store at 198 South Main St., the Fulton Street Deli at 113 East Fulton St., and Primo's Pizza at 98 Spring Street. At Primo's, authorities say the owner allowed an ex-employee to pay her cell phone bill with food stamp benefits, which is not allowed under the program. The retailers are likely to lose their license to sell lottery tickets and alcohol.

"Unfortunately these kinds of things take away from the benefits that it provides to the people in the community," said Sheryda Cooper, Commissioner of the Dept. of Social Services.


WNYT Staff

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