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It's been more than a year since it came to light that Vincent Edward Deprince defrauded the food stamp program of more than a million dollars. Well, Deprince couldn't have done it without more than a hundred food stamp recipients who gave him access to their benefits.
So far, 127 people face criminal charges for unauthorized use of food stamps, stemming from the illegal activities connected to Deprince and the taco truck.
The food stamp recipients allegedly used their cards to get cash and split it with the store. So now, District Attorney John DeRosier says they face serious penalties and possible jail time.
"Several of them have pled guilty as charged already. And we are requiring restitution in full for the amounts of money that the cards represented. I'm sure some of them will do jail time. Perhaps some of them who are true first offenders may not do jail time. These cases are going to be handled just like any other criminal case," DeRosier said.
Those charged allegedly misused amounts ranging from $1,000 to $9,000. DeRosier speaks for many taxpayers who are incensed at the abuse of benefits.
"For the recipients of these cards to exchange those for cash to buy different things that are not approved for, not food, is very frustrating to that working class of people who work so hard to support themselves and their families," DeRosier said.
The most recent batch of warrants was issued against 23 defendants on July 11. Those charged are at varying stages in the court system. Some have already been sentenced.
"Those who sell cards in amounts over $500 are subject to penalties anywhere from five years to 10 years in prison, depending on the amount of the benefits. Whenever the cards are issued, I think any recipient of those cards is given in writing the terms and conditions that include what you can do with them, what you can't do with them and what happens to you if you misuse the cards," DeRosier said.
Most, if not all of those charged in the taco truck case, will never again be eligible to receive food stamps.
A new law by State Sen. Ronnie Johns will impose much harsher fines and potential jail time for those who abuse food stamp benefits. It also affects retailers or other adults who know about the abuse.
Johns said the law takes effect in January so recipients and retailers can prepare for the new sanctions.