$2M food stamp fraud case closes 2 stores

The following is a Press Release from the Louisiana Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control: 

Louisiana Alcohol and Tobacco Control (ATC) Commissioner Troy Hebert announces that two Lake Charles convenience store owners have pled guilty to crimes exposed through a series of joint undercover operations between ATC and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) into a massive food stamp fraud scheme.

On March 9, 2012 Goodfellas Grocery and Goodfellas Grocery II owners Craig and Hillary Nash entered guilty pleas in relation to a 26-count indictment ordered by a federal grand jury last June based on evidence of illegal activity uncovered by agents with ATC and USDA.  According to the indictment, the two businesses redeemed $2.7 million worth of fraudulently obtained benefits from the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as the food stamp program.  The indictment further alleges that the Nash brothers allowed individuals with SNAP benefits to exchange their food stamps for alcohol, tobacco, and cash and profited by charging a fee of approximately half the food stamp benefits from the debit card before providing a reduced amount of cash to the card holder.  Such transactions are strictly prohibited under federal law.  The Nash brothers now face a 20 year prison sentence, up to $250,000 in fines, and restitution to the United States government.

"Food stamps are meant to purchase food, not beer and cigarettes much less traded for cash.  These blatant actions will not be tolerated by businesses permitted by ATC." Hebert stated.

Several bills are currently pending in the Louisiana Legislature that will enable ATC to suspend or revoke tobacco licenses held by businesses that conduct food stamp fraud. These bills are sponsored by Senator Jean-Paul Morrell and Representatives Jeff Arnold and Simone Champagne.