Everett store raided in food stamp fraud investigation

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on February 25, 2014 at 12:49 PM

Updated Tuesday, Feb 25 at 6:18 PM

Police and federal agents raided an Everett smokeshop on Tuesday, alleging that it was trafficking in food stamps and stolen goods.

KING 5 has learned that it is part of a large crackdown in the Pacific Northwest by the US Department of Agriculture, which runs the food stamp program.

Sources tell KING 5 that the feds have been reviewing food stamp receipts at more than 100 merchants that accept EBT cards, the debit-style cards that hold the electronic equivalent of food stamps.

Everett police and the USDA have been investigating A-One Smoke and Grocery for a couple of years.

In undercover operations and through surveillance, police tracked the store’s owner as he purchased EBT cards from food stamp recipients.

He also accompanied them to nearby stores like Costco and Walmart and gave them instructions on what food to buy.

“So the owner of this location would take an EBT card from somebody and he would go and purchase merchandise that he would then stock on his shelves,” said Officer Aaron Snell of the Everett Police Department.

Everett police also raided the owner’s home and found his garage filled with what investigators believe is trafficked or stolen goods.

As part of the USDA’s sweeping investigations in the Northwest, the feds and Seattle police hit Minh Tam grocery store in Seattle’s International District last week.

That store, at 12th and Jackson, is at the same location where the KING 5 Investigators found several merchants that were cheating the food stamp program two years ago.

Food stamps once were untraceable paper coupons that were easy to traffic and hard to monitor. The federal government and the states began switching to electronic cards in the 1990s. Called Electronic Benefit Transfer, or EBT cards, they allow the government to monitor all food stamp transactions and helped federal agents detect or deter untold millions in fraud. But some stores and customers devised ways to hide illegal EBT transfers -- usually involving the swapping of EBT purchased goods for cash, with recipients earning 50 cents on the dollar.

KING 5's "Their Crime, Your Dime" series in 2011 explored the scale of food stamp fraud and the government's response.

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