By Monica Land
Woman owes MDHS nearly $10,000 in restitution
JACKSON – A Madison County woman was just one of several individuals arrested and charged with abusing SNAP benefits in May, officials with the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS) said.
Stacy Fleming entered a guilty plea after she was indicted by the Madison County Grand Jury. Fleming was charged with SNAP fraud and ordered to pay $9,838 in restitution, fees and fines.
Fleming was also given five years supervised probation if she successfully completes the non-adjudication program. She cannot apply for or receive SNAP benefits for the next 12 months.
SNAP fraud is usually the result of the client withholding income or household information that would deem them ineligible to receive welfare benefits. Disqualification periods are determined by state and federal mandates and/or can be ordered by the court. Disqualification periods are normally 12 months for the first violation, 24 months for the second violation and permanent disqualification from the program for a subsequent violation.
Two store owners were also arrested in May and charged with SNAP abuse/trafficking.
Vaishali Y. Rathod of Louisville in Winston County was arrested and charged with trafficking at her store, the Handy Andy Store, located in the 800 block of South Church Avenue in Louisville.
Rathod fraudulently exchanged $8,691.68 in SNAP benefits for ineligible food items or cash benefits.
Store owner Sananjit Nagra and clerk Harmanpreet Nagra, both of Tupelo in Lee County were arrested and charged with trafficking at their store, the Nagra First Stop, located in the 3800 block of Highway 178 in Mooreville. They committed fraud in the amount of $2,409.01.
Retailers arrested for trafficking are not only charged but lose eligibility to accept any future EBT benefits at that store location. Additionally, clients who participate in trafficking are charged and potentially lose their benefits. All can face fines and jail time.
Program Integrity Investigators for MDHS said they are diligent in trying to locate and arrest individuals trying to defraud a program that provides assistance to so many in their time of need.
“Greed by a few has cost the honest low-income families the convenience of a local store that can accept their EBT cards,” said Frank Saddler, MDHS Director of Special Investigations. “This crime penalizes all who may have used these local shops for eligible EBT food purchases. The trickle down effect of SNAP trafficking is huge, particularly in rural small-town Mississippi. The crime affects the whole area [and] we want store owners to know that we are watching them and if they choose to scam the system, they will be caught.”
SNAP trafficking investigations are aimed at preventing the illegal use, transfer or trafficking of SNAP benefits, with the focus of investigations on retailers who are authorized to accept benefits through EBT purchases but instead exchange benefits for cash and/or ineligible goods such as non-food items.
“The program is designed to help low-income people put food on the table,” said Director of Fraud Investigations Kenneth Palmer. “So when someone is disqualified from receiving SNAP benefits, everyone suffers. The local store where purchases would have been made loses revenue and, of course, the family suffers because of the loss of benefits that would have allowed for food purchases. It hurts everyone…”
If anyone suspects a store owner, clerk or client is misusing benefits, please contact the Fraud Hotline at 1-800-299-6905.