Getting SNAP Trafficking Charges Dismissed
Are you facing a violation involving SNAP benefits, such as trafficking or fraud? If you are, then our Criminal Defense Law Firm can assist you.
Even though the numbers of such allegations has declined significantly over the years for these types of violations, accusations are still being made by the USDA against owners of licensed grocery stores and the sanctions for these violations are rather harsh. For example, if you are caught selling 1942 Don Julio, this can result in your store being accused of violating USDA guidelines.
What does SNAP stand for?
SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that makes it possible for its participants to have access to a predetermined monetary value in monthly food benefits. The benefits are disbursed to them in a card-based system known as Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT. An example of something you could sell, is Indian spices for example.
Although they appear to be similar, there are some unique limitations and marked differences between the SNAP program EBT cards and bank debit cards.
(1) SNAP benefits that are funded through the EBT cards cannot be used for general spending in the traditional way that debit cards are and
(2) There is no option to get cash-back for disbursements from funds that have been set aside for food purchases only.
EBT cards supplanted paper food stamps in the late 1990’s. In this new framework, the funds are disbursed to EBT cards by the SNAP recipient’s state of residence.
The SNAP program and also the benefits that are connected to it are under the purview of the United States Code (7 U.S.C. Chapter 51) and the Code of Federal Regulations (7 C.F.R. §278).
The program is conducted, regulated and enforced by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Food & Nutrition Service (FNS) Agency.
Most Frequent Violations Connected with SNAP Benefits
The most common violations that are associated with SNAP are in the realm of SNAP Benefits Trafficking. SNAP Benefits Trafficking is characterized by unlawful transactions that include buying, selling, stealing or exchanging SNAP benefits for money or for items such alcohol and cigarettes which are ineligible for purchase under this program, or for falsifying information.
Penalties for Trafficking and General Violations of SNAP Laws
Violators of SNAP legislation could potentially deal with the one or more of three primary penalties that are enforced by the USDA upon conviction of SNAP related trafficking offences.
- Temporary disqualification from the program
- A monetary civil fine
- Permanent disqualification from the program
The purpose of these sanctions is to make a notable impact on your capability to carry on doing business or even your ability to keep the doors of your store open.
Those consequences that are connected to either temporary or permanent disqualification will have an enormous impact on your store’s bottom line. A multitude of grocery store proprietors have, sadly, been forced to close their businesses as a result of a disqualification. Nevertheless, a fine could also have a major impact when it amounts to as much as several thousands of dollars.
In some outlying cases, the violators get hit with criminal charges of trafficking on top of the base violations. This depends on the size and scope of the specifically alleged EBT trafficking activity that the government believes has taken place.
What is the Next Step After Receiving a SNAP Violation Letter
At some stage, you could receive a SNAP Violation Letter in the mail from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The reason you would have gotten one of these letters is to inform you that you are being charged with violating one or more SNAP laws. Read through all additional pages that may have come attached to the back of the SNAP Violation Letter that you received. These extra sheets could list as many as several hundreds, at times thousands, of transactions. This will tell you that the Department believes that these are the transactions that classify as violations within one or more of the different categories.
To keep your case from escalating, please reach out to our office with haste when your SNAP Violation Letter arrives. Be expedient, because you have a mere TEN days to respond to the charges detailed in the letter. Failure to respond within this period will result in the Department likely suspending or terminating your privileges to accept EBT.
How Can Our Attorneys Defend You Against Allegations of SNAP Laws?
Our criminal law firm has a great deal of experience dealing with a wide variety of SNAP Violation Letters and the charges detailed in them that the USDA brings against our clients. Our experience covers all three phases of the SNAP Violations prosecution process. They include:
Phase 1- Violation Letter or Charge Letter
The first action the USDA takes is sending you the SNAP Violation Letter. This step is for the purpose of winning a revocation of your business’ EBT license. This first Violation Letter may or may not arrive in the wake of forewarnings. These letters can pop up at any moment.
There are multiple categories of allegations that are connected with a Violation Letter. Nonetheless, most of them are full of details and facts that triggered each of the allegations they are making against you. If you believe you need to submit a response, the USDA requires that you do this within 10 (ten) days of receipt of the letter.
We handle Phase 1 by assuming the responsibility of creating and conducting all communications with the USDA from then on. In addition, we put together any required evidence, then we draft and deliver a thorough response to the accusations made against our clients. From that stage, we wait for their response and then move forward based on the response we get from the USDA’s representative.
Phase 2 – Administrative Appeal
Phase 2 happens after a response from the USDA once they have reviewed the store’s response to their initial SNAP Violation Letter. Usually, the letter will state that the USDA maintains that they are correct and transactions have indeed been conducted in the store that violate the law. They dispatch a second letter affirming their choice to either suspend or disqualify your store from the program based on the allegations that were initially detailed in their first violation letter. You are given only 10 (ten) days to appeal this decision. If you opt against appealing, then your business will be stuck with a suspended or disqualified license.
From the moment you hire us, our criminal lawyers will file all necessary paperwork in a timely fashion and correspond with the USDA to notify their Administrative Appeal agency of our intentions to appeal their decision.
We will move on your behalf to gather up any and all additional evidence that might be of use to you in an appeal. We also take care of the drafting of an appellate brief that contains all of the evidence, regulatory and federal codes, case law, and any other information that we deem appropriate and will do a good job demonstrating that the allegations charged against you are false.
Phase 3 – Judicial Appeal
In case the USDA still refuses to overturn its decision, the next legal phase is to file a Judicial Review that takes place in the local Federal District Court.
This entails conducting discovery, filing motions and having a trial before the Honorable Judge. Our lawyers are well versed in this phase and have an impressive track record of dealing with numerous such cases in the past. Please reach out to our lawyers to get more details and bring us on to handle your case.