29 Jul 17

Grocery Store SNAP Defense Lawyers

| by

Last Updated on: 8th August 2023, 11:30 pm

Legal Defense of a Grocery Store Accused of SNAP Violations

When a grocery store or other type of business accept SNAP benefits for payment; there are certain laws they must follow. Even innocent mistakes could result in the business being given civil fines, Permanent Disqualification and in some cases subject to criminal charges. A business owner is always going to be held responsible whenever food stamp trafficking occurs in their establishment.

Prior to accepting SNAP benefits; a business should have a compliance plan in place. The owner needs to realize failing to follow this plan could result in them losing their store and potentially facing criminal charges. It’s important for every business to properly train their employees, so they know how to avoid committing any type of snap violation. It’s also important to have documentation and proof that the training occurred. Having an employee sign a form about receiving this type of training, and prior to working as a cashier, is also important. Any person, who is a cashier at a business involved with the snap program, must know the USDA’s rules completely, prior to being permitted to handle any type of EBT transactions.

civil money penalty
This is a fine. The U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA) is given authority to issue such fines under the Code of Federal Regulation. It also enables the USDA to enforce laws associated with any business involved in food stamp trafficking. The amount of the fine issued by the USDA will be determined by the amount of revenue a store receives in EBT transactions. It will also be influenced by any other snap violation alleged against a business. Should a business have appropriate compliance programs in place; it might preserve its future EBT income. This USDA can only issue civil fines and not any type of disqualification.

Temporary Disqualification
This is something that can last from six months up to five years. It can be damaging to a business depending on their level of income from EBT transactions. The length of time will be determined by violations of the Code of Federal Regulations. The evidence the USDA has against a business and the number of snap violations it has committed, will influence the length of time for a temporary disqualification.

Permanent Disqualification
This is the most harmful punishment for a business. Many grocery stores and others depend on EBT for a large portion of their revenue. The loss of this income has caused some grocery stores and other retailers to go out of business. The Food and Nutrition Service of the USDA has been given authority under Code of Federal Regulations (7 CFR § 278.6) to disqualify any retail food business or wholesale food operation from participating in EBT Transactions. This will be based on the inability of the business to maintain compliance with the Food Stamp Act of 1977. This could result if there are employees at the business who are found guilty of EBT trafficking. This could be selling, buying as well as stealing, and in any way exchanging snap benefits for items or cash. A store permitting the purchase of ineligible items like vaporizers and alcohol, LED grow lights,  and has previously been sanctioned for doing it could get a permanent disqualification. A business intentionally providing false information on their application for the snap program could also get this type of disqualification.

snap Trafficking Charge Letter
These are letters from the USDA. They are sent when the USDA’s computer system issues an alert. This often happens when numerous large transactions are detected. These are often a number of transaction valued at $25 or more. A business can expect for every transaction over $40 to trigger this type of alert. An alert could be triggered by transactions with the same cents value. A common example is when it ends in zero cents. The letter won’t be sent until a store reaches the limit. This is approximately 100 transactions during a period of three months. When the USDA detects too many transactions within a 36 hours time frame, a letter will be generated. These are usually transactions done within a few minutes of one another.

Administrative Resolution
In some cases, the accusations brought of a business by the USDA can be resolved administratively. When this happens, there will be no criminal charges. In this situation, there will not be any serious penalties involved. A business owner could be permitted to pay restitution and have the case closed.

A business owner will have a serious problem if their case is recommended to the District Attorney’s Office. When this happens, a business owner could be arrested and charged with various different felonies. This could include everything from filing of a False Business Document to Grand Larceny, Welfare fraud and more. The reality of this situation is a business will have to face a potential trial. They could have their case tried and be acquitted. If a business owner if found guilty, they will have a permanent felony conviction on their record. It’s possible they could even be incarcerated. Many factors will influence the punishment after a conviction. This will be based on a business owner’s criminal history, their cooperation during the investigation, amount of fraud and more.

Plea Agreement
A business owner may be able to avoid having a felony conviction on their record, or spending time in jail with a plea agreement. This can happen when the business owner is represented by an attorney experienced in negotiating plea agreements in these types of situations. In some situations, an attorney may be able to help their client avoid having a felony conviction. This is a good option in many cases because there are lesser penalties with this type of fraud. Business owners have been able to plead down to other lesser charges such as disorderly conduct and more.

If someone has been accused of snap fraud, they should contact a New York attorney for an immediate consultation. This type of public benefits fraud is one of the most commonly investigated. The Human Resources Administration in New York is spending a significant amount of money on these cases when compared to other types of public benefits fraud. Once an experienced attorney has been able to review the facts of a case, they will know how best to proceed.

Grocery Store SNAP Defense Lawyers

There are many grocery stores located in New York City. Most grocers are honest, hardworking individuals who strive to provide the best customer service for their customers that they possibly can. Many smaller shops that sell groceries are neighborhood staples where the neighborhood residents go to pick up their necessary foods and other household products. New York, like other states, participates in the snap program run by the federal department of agriculture. This program is more commonly known as the food stamp program after the paper voucher stamps that eligible individuals previously had to use at the store to buy food.

The problem with this system is that there are always some people who will find ways to abuse this type of needed welfare program. There are strict rules and income limits that must be met to qualify for this food program intended for the lowest income households. Grocers too must abide by strict government rules in order to be eligible to cash these benefits when customers purchase the qualifying groceries from their stores. This program allows smaller grocery stores to serve the lower income households within the surrounding neighborhoods. If a grocer is found guilty of intentionally defrauding the government by breaking the snap rules, the grocer could be fined large amounts of money which is dependent on the amount of the fraud, and they could face jail time in the worst scenarios.

The snap program has representatives charged with finding and stopping any fraud. Some years ago, snap revamped their system and incorporated a computerized program that loads the eligible SNAP benefits amount onto each participants debit card issued by the program. Now, the agency can trace transactions and investigate fraudulent suspicions easier and faster. However, there are still honest mistakes rather than intentional fraud, and the complex rules for the program make it difficult to follow for many grocery store workers.

Each store is responsible for training their employees on what foods and beverages are eligible to be bought with snap benefits and which ones are forbidden. Even in the best situations, a new clerk may ring up something under the snap benefits like paper products including toilet paper and paper towels. Some ineligible items are easy to understand. Most law abiding tax payers would object if their tax dollars allowed someone to purchase beer, wine, cigarettes or drugs with their snap government issued benefits intended for food purchases only.

Mistakes can happen if a store clerk rings up a prepared food like a cooked deli chicken for instance. Some deli items are allowed, and the rules can include one type of packaged cheese but exclude another similar one because it is sliced thin perhaps. It is easy to see how a clerk could be confused in this case. The grocer may also be completely unaware that anything was done wrong, as there is not immediate alert. What can happen is the grocer might get an official letter from the agency that governs snap benefits accusing the grocer of SNAP violations and possible fraud.

If a grocer gets a letter, he/she should immediately contact a criminal defense lawyer that practices in the city. They should choose a law firm that has experience in handling snap fraud cases like the NYC Criminal Defense Attorneys at Spodek Law Group. The government only gives grocers 10 days to respond to their letter. Time is of the essence here. A qualified attorney can quickly handle the first response communication. If necessary, the attorney can handle all of any subsequent communication and precise paperwork that the agency requires completed.

The stakes for not getting the proper legal representation can be high. The grocer could be banned from participating in the snap program which could take away a good bit of a grocery store’s profits every month. This is especially true for stores situated in low income neighborhoods. A competent lawyer can defend a grocer throughout the sometimes lengthy process. Sometimes a case can be resolved swiftly. If the federal government finds that the grocer is guilty of fraud, it could result in a criminal felony charge. Access to learn more about SNAP defense lawyers, and schedule your free consultation appointment.