More than 50 people have been indicted in Georgia for what is likely to be one of, if not the, largest welfare fraud rings ever uncovered. Over $18 million in WIC and SNAP benefits were exchanged for cash at a variety of stores throughout the state.
A federal grand jury in Savannah on Tuesday indicted 54 people in what it called "one of the largest federal food program frauds ever prosecuted."
The ring purchased more than $18 million in WIC vouchers and food-stamp benefits through stores setup throughout Georgia specifically for that purpose, according to a news release.
According to the FBI, many of the defendants canvassed lower-income neighborhoods offering to pay cash for WIC and food stamp benefits. These purchased benefits were then reimbursed for full value from the federal government.
Once the purported stores were opened and approved as WIC and Food Stamp vendors, many of the defendants allegedly canvassed low-income neighborhoods and solicited WIC and Food Stamp participants to illegally exchange their benefits not for food but for cash. The defendants then allegedly bought WIC and Food Stamp benefits for cash at a fraction of the amount they received from the USDA by redeeming the benefits they had purchased. The defendants also allegedly conspired to launder over $18 million in proceeds received from their fraud upon the WIC and Food Stamp programs.
Each of the defendants face up to 20 years in prison for money laundering in addition to another 20 year sentence for mail and wire fraud conspiracy.
This story is both sad and infuriating. Eighteen million dollars is a large sum of money, and that number represents money that wasn't spent on its intended purpose of providing nutrition to the needy. The state wasted money, and children whose mothers sold their WIC vouchers likely went hungry. While I'm glad the fraudsters were arrested, Georgia needs to take steps to ensure that this doesn't happen ever again.