On June 3rd, the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Gardendale Police Department, the United States Department of Agriculture, the Alabama Department of Human Resources, and the Secret Service launched sweeping arrests in the Birmingham, Alabama area in what is one of the largest food stamp fraud investigations in the state’s history.
Newsmax reports that 17 people were arrested by a massive law enforcement task force for fraudulently using food stamps. The scam cost the government hundreds of thousands of dollars, and some of the profits were even illicitly wired to Yemen.
In “Operation T-Bone,” several local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies led raids across the Birmingham area to arrest those responsible, after months of investigation. The investigation was launched in February after a man was caught stealing steaks and other food items in a Walmart in Gardendale, Alabama. The man told authorities he was part of a wider criminal scheme that illegally used food stamps and inflated food prices.
The scheme involved recipients of food stamp cards selling them to local convenience stores for roughly 50 cents on the dollar. Store proprietors would then go to wholesale food chains such as Walmart to purchase food and bring the food back to their stores and sell it at a higher price. The people that sold the food stamps did so, according to investigators, in order to have cash to buy products they couldn’t buy with food stamps, mainly alcohol, tobacco, and drugs.
The 17 people arrested were charged with public assistance fraud, fraudulent use of a credit card, and theft of property. Another 242 arrest warrants were issued but not prosecuted.
Jefferson County Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Raulston claims that the scheme is so large that her office “had to cut off the number we were going to prosecute this round, and this will be an ongoing investigation and prosecution for our office.”
Operation T-Bone reflects a national trend of food stamp fraud cases. A Government Accountability Report last August found that food stamp recipients were “selling and bartering their benefits online for art, housing and cash” across the country. In April, Missouri Congressman Rick Brattin sponsored a bill that would restrict the kinds of food people could buy with food stamps, including chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, steak, and cookies. The bill was dubbed the “surf-and-turf law” by The Washington Post.
Americans, whether using food stamps or not, consume over two billion cookies every year. That is about 300 cookies per person annually.