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(Toledo News Now) -
In Lucas County, more than 100,000 people look to the government to put food on the dinner table every day.
While the majority of people on food stamps follow the rules of the program, a small percentage do not.
Throughout the year, the Ohio Investigative Unit follows up on tips from the public to track down food stamp abusers.
On Friday, January 31st, WTOL joined OIU agents to bust two Toledo businesses suspected of illegal activity; Al's Market located at 309 Crittenden Avenue and the Power Party Store at 328 Columbus Avenue.
During the six month probe, investigators recruited confidential informants to carry out illegal purchases using EBT cards at both locations.
With enough evidence, two teams of masked and armed agents raided the retail stores, while WTOL's cameras rolled. It was far from business as usual as investigators locked up the stores to question employees, issue violations and walk the aisles in search of anything illegal.
Al's Mark was cited with one count for trafficking an EBT card and one count for using an EBT card illegally.
The Power Party Store was cited with three counts for trafficking an EBT card and three counts for using an EBT card illegally.
"We also came across a piece of clothing here that's counterfeit," said Ray Rodriguez, OIU Agent.
But there's more, agents locked eyes on a bag of synthetic drugs during a sweep of the Power party Store.
A combination of the violations results in a long list of potential penalties including felony charges, prison time, hefty fines, civil citations, a loss of liquor permit and a loss of the food stamp terminal.
This food stamp fraud case mirrors 25 others OIU investigated in Toledo last year.
"Toledo has quite a bit of cases compared to the other districts," said Rodriguez.
By the numbers:
Who Benefits from Food Assistance in Lucas County as of Dec. 2013
42% are children 18 and under
58% are adults
23% of the adults are aged, blind or disabled
41% are partially or fully employed
89% are in fair to poor health
7.51% are elderly
Total dollar amount issued in food assistance in 2013 for Lucas County:
$150,703,738 (12-13 million a month usually)
Total # of Food Stamp Fraud cases since 2009
Toledo - 81 (12 remain open)
Columbus - 136 (17 remain open)
Cincinnati - 90 (8 remain open)
Cleveland - 79 (5 remain open)
Food Stamp Fraud state/local statistics:
TOLEDO Food Stamp Fraud Cases as of 1/28/2014:
2009 - 13 cases
2010 - 22 cases
2011 - 15 cases
2012 – 20 cases
2013 – 25 cases
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, they lose about 1 percent of total food stamp funds to trafficking. That may not seem like a lot.
But in 2013, Lucas County alone received more than $150 million dollars in food stamp benefits – meaning more than a million tax dollars was lost in waste and fraud.
This is not a victimless crime - ultimately taxpayers foot the bill for those who cheat. And they're hard to catch without the public's help. Investigators rely heavily on people's tips to find those who are cheating the system.
We'll keep you updated on their food stamp fraud investigations as well - shining a light on exactly where your money is going - and finding those who make a mockery of a system meant to help those who need it most.
Copyright 2014 Toledo News Now. All rights reserved.
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