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SNAP Trafficking: What You Need to Know

May 12, 2020 Uncategorized

The Crime of Trafficking in SNAP Benefits

SNAP Benefits Trafficking stands as the most formidable crime an EBT retailer can face consequences for. Still, it’s the most recurrent SNAP violation charged by the USDA.  Being accused of trafficking in SNAP benefits at your store can mean rigid and rapid sanctions against you, with a substantial probability you may face criminal charges.  Be forewarned: trafficking allegations are far more than simply claims that you or employees of your grocery store improperly processed an EBT card from one of your customers.

The crime of trafficking can be described as any use of SNAP benefits in an illegal or unauthorized exchange.  These crimes come in many different shades and the USDA’s definition covers six different varieties of practices that qualify as trafficking:

  • The Purchase/Sale/Theft an EBT card or a card account and/or PIN number for money or other things of value;
  • Trading in explosives, drugs, ammunition, or guns using  SNAP funds or EBT cards;
  • Purchasing products with a bottle refund, discarding the contents and exchanging the bottles for refund;
  • Making legitimate purchases with an EBT card and reselling said items for cash;
  • SNAP participants who buy food with their EBT card and then trade it for cash or credit at a participating SNAP retailer grocery store are engaging in trafficking.
  • Giving “cash back” on EBT transactions, without regard to whether or not the liquor store owner or any of the managers or staff members extract financial gain from the disbursal.

Understanding Whether You Are Being Charged with Trafficking

Three ways that proprietors of participating stores can get notified of a trafficking charge.  All three include the formality of a charge letter.  This “Charge Letter” is sent out to the store address via UPS overnight from the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS). It explains in detail the specific allegations that the USDA is charging against your store.  The most frequently occurring SNAP trafficking charge is known as an “EBT” case.  EBT is short for Electronic Benefit Transfer.  This type of trafficking matter is a data analysis case.  Here’s what the Charge Letter looks like:

SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter

Your charge letter lists the transaction pattern categories that gave the USDA pause and guided them to their finding of a SNAP trafficking violation.  Several Exhibits with groups of transactions listed on them are customarily attached to the letter.  Department of Agriculture officials have been known  to testify in a multitude of cases that they said they were off the belief that the defendants were dispensing “cash back” in EBT transactions and thereby guilty of trafficking. Our lawyers can explain to you all you will need to know about handling an EBT SNAP trafficking charge letter.  Anyway, your greatest chances of overcoming these charges in such matters almost always involves attorneys stepping in to defend  you.

The next class of trafficking charge letter comes from the Retailer Investigations Branch, or RIB.  Such a letter comes as a result of an undercover agent from the USDA having shopped in your store undercover as a secret shopper.  This kind of letter usually has an affidavit attached to it that looks like this:

Undercover agent affidavit

Secret shopper cases have a higher tendency to be focused in the tiny details, such as if you are caught selling liquor, than the EBT cases.  In the absence of a specialized lawyer, you have low probability of presenting a strong defense that will succeed.  Our lawyers are available for a free consultation, so if a letter with an undercover agent affidavit shows up one day in the mail, get on the phone or email us as expeditiously as you can.

The last of the charge letters will show up at the completion of an Office of Inspector General investigation.  OIG conducts undercover investigations, too, but they usually conduct this particular kind of investigation for the purposes of bringing criminal charges.   Here’s an example of an OIG letter:

OIG charge letter

When you receive any one of these three kinds of charge letters, it means a criminal investigation will ensue, even though they don’t always result in criminal charges against the business or it’s proprietor.  We firmly recommend that you do not attempt to do battle in such matters on your own accord – again, you can get a risk-free consultation in which we assist grocery store owners in avoiding common mishaps and pitfalls.

You Got Charged with SNAP Trafficking – What Next?

Undergoing a SNAP trafficking case is a tough situation.  Because of  the major impact they can have on your business, it is imperative that you defend yourself against any trafficking charges brought by the USDA.  You can access our SNAP Violation Guidebook in which you can learn how trafficking cases go and what you can expect when you hire us to represent you.

The early stages are often the most crucial part of the entire process.  Having said that, below is a quick guide to give you an understanding of what your attorney is going to need from you to proceed:

  1. The transaction receipts that display the items that were sold in the relevant transactions.
  2. Inventory records, including all invoices and receipts for the food your store has purchased.
  3. Business tax records (like sales tax and 1040’s) often come in handy.
  4. Profit and loss statements can also help.

In conclusion, we have emphasized above that you should definitely get an attorney involved in such cases.  This firm has a long and impressive track record and is known for being highly knowledgeable as a SNAP Trafficking specialist.  The largest repository of expertise on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program exists at our law firm.  USDA officials know our lawyers well.  What firm you decide to work with on your trafficking matter will indeed make a difference in the results of your case. Do yourself a favor.  Don’t settle for a delay and stall play: strategize the case to triumph in the case.

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