Police: Stores bought food stamps from drug users

FLINT, Mich. (AP) § Six Flint-area party stores and gas stations paid drug users for food stamps the retailers used to stock their shelves and, in some cases, buy steak and crab leg dinners, police said.

The scheme drew drug dealers and crime into neighborhoods surrounding the businesses, police said.

Detective Trooper Stacey Moore of the Flint Area Narcotics Group told The Flint Journal that most of the sellers used the cash to buy drugs. The retailers often paid just 20 cents on the dollar for government cards intended to provide food for needy households, he said.

The drug unit had an undercover officer go into the stores and sell a fake food stamp electronic benefits card, often to the owner or owner's relatives, Moore said. The stores often paid just $50 for food stamps intended to buy $250 worth of groceries.

Drug dealers set up shop outside the stores because the cardholders often used the cash to buy drugs, she said.

"It brings in crime, it brings in guns and drugs § stuff you don't want in the neighborhood," she said.

Each store is accused of more than $1,000 in fraud during the undercover investigation, which lasted more than a year. Stacks of cards were found behind counters in some stores, Moore said.

Colleen Steinman, a spokeswoman for the Michigan Department of Human Services, said fraud of this and other types is expected to cost the state more than $18 million this fiscal year.

"There are instances of fraud where people will sell their card for cash," Steinman said. "That is clearly fraud and we take that very seriously."

Taxpayers may be on the path to getting some of their money back. A judge in one case involving a Flint gas station has ordered the store and its three owners to repay the government $53,000. Defendants in cases involving four other stores also have pleaded guilty or no contest and are expected to be sentenced in upcoming weeks.

The case against operators of the sixth retailer is pending.


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