By David Beasley
ATLANTA (Reuters) - Federal prosecutors in Georgia announced indictments on Tuesday against 88 people in one of the country's largest food-stamp fraud cases.
Fifty-four defendants were accused in an alleged scheme to open grocery stores in Georgia that would buy food stamps and cash vouchers at deep discounts, which the stores would then redeem with the federal government at full value.
The defendants also allegedly conspired to launder $18 million in profit from the plot.
An additional 34 people were indicted on charges they sold their benefits for cash.
The government is also seeking the forfeiture of $20 million from the defendants and other assets including a 2008 Land Rover and a 2008 Mercedes Benz.
Both the voucher and food stamp programs are administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and funded with federal tax dollars, prosecutors said.
The vouchers provide infant formula, fresh fruits, vegetables and other foods to low-income pregnant and postpartum women and their children.
"The government alleges that the defendants stole taxpayer-funded benefits intended to feed the most needy families and children in our communities," U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Georgia Edward Tarver said in a statement.
(Editing by David Adams, Peter Cooney and Cynthia Osterman)