ONCE CAUGHT-Many say everyone does it. Many say they did not know it was a crime. Many say they did not know how serious a violation it was. Typical violations include exchange of money for a swipe of the card for about 50% discount-selling unauthorized product-or thinks of the like. What do you do when the FBI raids your home and store armed with guns drawn, screaming, and ordering you and your family (and kids) to get on the floor with your hands above your head while alleging the search is because of suspected EBT fraud?
7 U.S.C. section 2024 is the controlling law. Please take the time to review the statute. A person is not issued a license from the SNAP program unless they sign a statement agreeing they became familiar with the law, understand the law, and will follow the law. Do store owners really read the full statute before they sign? You be the judge.
WHAT IS ALLEGEDLY HAPPENING?
The computers used by the government are very sophisticated. There are several ways agents can be tipped off to illegal activity. An undercover officer will usually visit a store a few times and look for violations before they make contact with the owner or manager. They speak with customers that leave the store, and watch to see if store clerks do anything unusual. They also try to observe use of EBT transactions for violations by clerks or customers, and may take time-stamped photographs and video to compare the actual sale to the food stamp records to see if the store clerk is illegally ringing transactions without a proper card, or without the customer being present. If a warrant to search is obtained, they conduct a search of the store and demand the owner step aside while they go through everything in the store, and possibly your home, even the computer hard drives and security film. They may use your own security footage against you.
Allegations may include, but are not limited to:
a. Having a card from a family member used in the store because you have different last names;
b. Having a card laying on the register saying a customer left it there;
c. Buying a card and allowing it to be used by another; (do you know that every time a card is used at Meijer or any other large store it can take as little as a few minutes for a police officer with authority to have the transaction brought up on film showing the face of the person using the card)
d. Trading swipes for 50% or more cash return;
e. Allowing a customer to purchase product for another customer when they exchange cash.
Your cash, bank accounts, and other property may be seized during the investigation, which usually has been going on for a while before you ever know what happened. It is important you know and understand all of the laws to protect yourself and your business. Any criminal charge can interfere with your right to acquire a liquor license, food stamp license, or lottery license.
WHAT NOT TO DO---DO YOU KNOW YOUR RIGHTS?
Obviously, do not violate the program rules. While we should all respect laws enforcement, law enforcement must respect your constitutional rights. One of the most important constitutional rights is to remain silent. It is not that you should try to hinder law enforcement, but when you are the target of an investigation, you must know your legal rights. You will not help yourself by speaking- that is a guaranty. The constitution protects you from being required to give statements that might incriminate you. A real problem which could occur is a lack of understanding due to words, terminology, language barrier, translation misunderstanding, or simply protecting you from aggressive law enforcement tactics. DO NOT give in and think you have to answer a question. You will have the time to speak at the right place for the right reason with your attorney. BE AWARE that giving false answers to federal agents can be a crime in and of itself. You cannot talk yourself out of anything. Cooperation does have its benefits if correctly negotiated. If you find yourself in need of legal advice when faced with such an issue please call Sal Gani at the Gani Law Firm for an immediate consultation. Once you speak you can’t take back your words. Do not believe that you can say things and expect they will go away and forget about the issue. The best thing is to say is “I DO NOT WANT TO SPEAK WITHOUT MY ATTORNEY PRESENT.” When you speak with an attorney the conversation is confidential. You must be able to speak freely to obtain proper legal advice. Remember the 5 P’s- proper planning prevents poor performance.
WHAT’S THE HARM?
There is a lot of material covered in the statute. I suggest all store owners read the law to protect what they worked so hard to acquire. Below are some of the provisions in the statute:
UNAUTHORIZED USE or TRANSFER. Violation of the statute where the benefits are of value of $5000.00 or more could be a twenty year felony and a fine of not more than $250,000.00; where the benefits were a value of between $100.00 and $5000.00 the penalty can be a five year felony and up to a $10,000.00 fine; if the benefit is less than $100.00 the penalty can be a misdemeanor with a fine up to $1,000.00.
PRESENTATION OF PAYMENT OR REDEMPTION OF BENEFITS ILLEGALLY RECEIVED. Presenting benefits for payment can be up to a five year felony with fines up to $20,000.00 depending on the benefit amount.
FORFEITURE. WOW. Under section (f), all real and personal property used in a transaction to commit or facilitate a violation under certain subsections shall be subject to forfeiture to the United States.
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Sal Gani has been representing party store owners and businesses with Liquor Control and tobacco violations, transactions to purchase or sell a store, and corporations and Limited Liability Companies for more than 25 years. Initial consultations are free of charge. You are invited to visit our website at ganilaw.com to review our free newsletters and blogs relating to matters that I hope you find interesting and informative. I am happy to put you on our direct email list and send you copies of our future blogs and newsletters
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