10 Oct 17

Lawyers For SNAP Dismissal of Trafficking Charges

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Last Updated on: 9th August 2023, 05:37 pm

SNAP benefits are a major source of income for many business owners, and a charging letter in the mail accusing your business of wrongdoing can be a devastating situation. Once a business owner receives a SNAP charging letter outlining what your business is accused of doing in violation of SNAP benefits laws, you have to respond. It’s best to keep your response neutral and avoid admitting to anything that might even point to a shred of guilt. Never accuse your employees of making mistakes, never admit you believe there could have been a mistake at your business, and always tell the USDA their information is incorrect.

Never speak to the USDA or respond to a SNAP charging letter without first consulting with your attorney. If you don’t respond correctly, your business could be shut down or your SNAP benefits could be taken from you. If you can’t accept SNAP benefits anymore, your bottom line is seriously affected. You must know how to handle a situation such as this, and you must know what you should do when SNAP charging letters come your way so you see dismissal of any trafficking charges.

SNAP Trafficking Charges

If the USDA feels anything wrong has occurred in your place of business, you could be accused of trafficking SNAP benefits. This typically occurs when a business owner is allowing people to use their SNAP benefits for incorrect purposes. It could be a simple as allowing people using their SNAP benefits to purchase alcohol or other items that aren’t covered under their benefits, or it might be something as serious as allowing customers to sell you their SNAP benefits for a discounted cash price so they can buy whatever they want. It might even be a simple mistake someone else made or that was recorded in the USDA’s information.

If you get a charging letter, you must respond to it. You must do this through your attorney if you want to cover yourself and be sure nothing inappropriate is said that might just further incriminate you or your business. If you are found guilty of SNAP trafficking charges, you will lose your ability to accept SNAP benefits, you might have your business shut down, and you might even face jail time and other penalties.

Your response is important. It’s the first step in the dismissal process. Once your response is received, you are able to go through the administrative appeal process. This is when you receive paperwork from the USDA outlining how they’ve decided to proceed. If they decide to go forward with their case, your attorney is going to file a motion to appeal so you can have an administrative hearing.

If the administrative appeal doesn’t work and the USDA decides they are not overturning their decision, your attorney is going to file a motion for a judicial appeal to take it to the next level. This occurs in a Federal Court. It’s this part of the process that matters most when things get this far. This is when the federal judge in your district takes a look at your paperwork and works to come up with an answer.

The if the judge is on your side when you get this far, you will find you are given a dismissal of SNAP trafficking charges. Your business will continue to accept SNAP benefits, your business will not be fined or in trouble, and you can move on with your life.

You must call an attorney if you are looking to get a dismissal of SNAP trafficking charges. An attorney knows what to say, how to file the appropriate paperwork, and how to ensure that your rights are always met in this process. Even one misstep can cause you to lose your business, which is why it’s so important you hire an experienced attorney to work with you in this situation.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provides eligible individuals with food benefits every month. The benefits are issued on an Electronic Benefits Transfer card. The United States Department of Agriculture Food & Nutrition Service Agency regulates SNAP.

The USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service Agency defines EBT trafficking as

  • Stealing, buying, or selling an EBT card for cash
  • Using an EBT card or SNAP benefits for the exchange of explosives, ammunition, drugs, or guns
  • Using an EBT card to buy food or other products with the intention of reselling the items to another individual
  • Returning an EBT food purchase for cash or store credit
  • Allowing cash back for SNAP transactions

SNAP Trafficking

According to the USDA, SNAP trafficking can be violated directly or indirectly. SNAP trafficking is one of the more common SNAP violations among retailers and can lead to serious penalties that could include

Permanent Disqualification From SNAP
Permanent disqualification could be sanctioned from SNAP if the retailer

  • committed trafficking as defined in § 271.2
  • Committed repeated violations
  • Knowingly submitted false information that could affect the retailers eligibility

Temporary Disqualification From SNAP
Temporary disqualification of 5 years will be sanctioned if it’s a retailer’s first violation. Furthermore, a temporary disqualification will be issued if the retailer was previously warned that SNAP violations were taking place and evidence shows

  • SNAP redemptions for a set time frame exceeded food sales in the same period
  • The retailer allows an individual to purchase ineligible items, such as cigarettes or alcohol, with SNAP benefits
  • The retailer knowingly accepted payment via SNAP benefits when the buyer was not legally entitled to the benefits

A retailer may be disqualified from participating in SNAP for 3 years if evidence shows

  • The retailer has been previously advised that violations were occurring and continued violate SNAP regulations
  • Personnel knowingly submitted an application with false information that involved annual retail food sales, financial information, store name, store location, number of cash registers, or nonfood inventory
  • The retailer engaged in SNAP transactions with other authorized retailers after being warned of the possibility that violations were occurring

A retailer may be disqualified for one year if evidence shows

  • It was the retailers first sanction
  • The retailer allowed SNAP benefits to be used as payment for ineligible items that were sold to an individual on credit

If it’s a retailer’s first sanction, and evidence shows that employees were unaware they committed violations, it will disqualify the retailer for 6 months.

Monetary Penalties
If a retailer has been sanctioned with a SNAP violation that mandates disqualification, a monetary penalty may enforced in place of the disqualification if it would cause a hardship on SNAP participants in the area. This typically occurs when the retailer is the only one in the area that sells a wide range of eligible food items.

What happens When a Retailer is Charged with EBT Trafficking?

If a retailer is facing EBT trafficking charges, they will receive a charge letter. UPS delivers the letter. There are three ways a retailer can get charged with EBT trafficking. The most common is an EBT case.

What’s in a Charge Letter?

If a retailer receives a charge letter, it will provide an analysis of any records or patterns that indicate the retailer is trafficking. All transactions and the dates that they occurred will be listed in the letter. A charge letter also states that permanent disqualification from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could occur if it’s determined that the retailer committed trafficking. The letter will also have attached exhibits involving each transaction.

Retailer Investigative Branch SNAP Trafficking Letter

The second type of charge letter is sent by the Retailer Investigations Branch. With these cases, a USDA agent secretly shops in the store to collect evidence of violations. These charge letters are accompanied by affidavits and have more details than EBT case charge letters.

Office of Inspector General SNAP Trafficking Letter

The third charge letter involves the Office of Inspector General. These cases typically involve undercover investigations, such as Retailer Investigations Branch cases, but cases that involve the Office of the Inspector General usually involve criminal charges. In many cases, undercover agents for the Office of the Inspector General are trying to find SNAP trafficking rings, and these investigations usually involve multiple retailers.

What You Should do if You Receive a SNAP Trafficking Charge Letter?

A charge letter will state that an accused retailer has the right to legal representation in response to the allegations. In addition, the letter explains that the preliminary determination isn’t permanent. If a retailer show evidence that supports their innocence, the determination can be overturned. The USDA requires that retailers who are accused of SNAP trafficking submit a response to the USDA within 10 days of receiving the letter.

Seek Legal Representation for a Reputable Law Firm

If you’ve received a SNAP charge letter, it’s vital to seek legal advice from an experienced SNAP violation attorney. The charge letter will arrive without warning, and you must submit a response within a timeframe. If you have a skilled SNAP trafficking attorney at your side, it can help you keep your EBT license and avoid monetary penalties.