A Georgia store owner and ten of his customers pleaded guilty on Tuesday to food stamp fraud charges for their involvement in a scheme whereby customers traded food stamp benefits for cash.
The Justice Department announced Wednesday that Garland Alford, 75, pleaded guilty to two counts of food stamp fraud for allowing his customers to trade Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for cash or for items not eligible to be purchased with food stamps.
Alford used to be the co-owner of a convenience store called Lake Flea Market & FDR Grocery, located south of Donalsonville, where he carried out the scheme.
Ten of Alford’s customers also admitted to taking part in the scheme, each pleading guilty to one count of illegally transferring food stamp benefits.
The following customers were identified as being a part of the SNAP fraud scheme:
- Jeanie Sheffield, 34, of Colquitt, Georgia
- Kaneesha Wooten, 23, of Bainbridge, Georgia
- Wendy Mitchell Prickett, 44, of Nashville, Tennessee
- Antonio Gardner, 35, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Victoria Henry, 47, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Jennifer Johnson, 30, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Renee Kimble, 41, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Crystal Maxwell, 36, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Rosanna Roupe, 33, of Donalsonville, Georgia
- Kayla Wallace, 26, of Donalsonville, Georgia
Justice Department officials said law enforcement began looking into Alford after receiving a tip that he allowed SNAP benefit recipients to trade their benefits for cash and items not allowed to be purchased with food stamps— such as cigarettes, alcohol, and hot/prepared food items.
Investigators discovered the average transaction at Alford’s store amounted to $56, way above the average transaction at similar convenience stores in the state— which is $7.
If convicted, Alford could face up to ten years in prison and up to $250,000 in fines, while his customers who took part in the scheme could face up to five years behind bars and $250,000 in fines.
Both Alford and his customers are due back in court for sentencing in February 2019.
Many convenience store owners have gotten themselves in serious trouble with the federal government for carrying out similar schemes in which employees allowed SNAP users to trade their benefits for cash.
A Ghanian national was sentenced in April to eight months in prison for carrying out a $300,000 food stamp fraud scheme, and an Oregon minimart owner was sentenced in February to two years behind bars for orchestrating a $189,000 food stamp fraud scheme.