Sunday, December 30, 2012
Could you spend $500 on food at this bodega?
Could you spend $500 on food at this bodega? A welfare recipient claimed to! Most people run to the corner bodega for a gallon of milk or a loaf of bread, but some welfare recipients are plunking down $500 at a time in suspicious transactions, The Post has found. Welfare users are only allowed to use their Electronic Benefit Transfer cards to buy food, yet they are rung up like fat cats in tiny stores in The Bronx and Brooklyn where the priciest item is usually an $8 pound of ham. Earlier this year, an owner and a cashier at Glenwood Food Corp. in Canarsie, Brooklyn, were arrested for ringing up bogus transactions. A federal sting found the bodega was recording phony purchases on EBT cards, handing customers about 70 percent of the amount in cash — and pocketing the rest. Goods were rarely exchanged in the scam, which defrauded taxpayers out of $985,000 in two years. The Post found dozens of mysterious high-value “purchases” in low-end stores in a state database of 1 million EBT transactions. Sheridan Mini Mart in Morrisania, The Bronx, rang up single sales of $543.40 and $473.50 on June 4, 2012, alone. That’s a lot of bread for a store where the most expensive item is an $11.99 jug of cooking oil. At Tremont’s Palenque Supermarket Corp., ETB where the priciest product is an $18.99 gallon of olive oil, transactions reached as high as $400 last year. Desi Grocery, a tiny East New York store now known as Anchor Grocery, racked up a $585 sale and several $400 sales through June 2012. When the feds replaced paper food stamps, welfare recipients began receiving their benefits electronically on an EBT card, which operates like a debit card, to buy food at stores authorized by the US Department of Agriculture. A single recipient gets $200 a month, and the head of a four-person household gets $668. Eligible individuals must make less than $14,532 annually, and the head of a family of four less than $29,976. They swipe their cards, enter a PIN and the amount of the food purchase is deducted from their allowance and credited to the retailer. Moe Mozit, a co-owner of Sheridan Mini Market, denies his store cooks up counterfeit sales. He said he had no record of the $543 transaction The Post found in state documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request, and was shocked anyone could spend that much at his shop. “This amount is crazy,” Mozit said. “Sometimes you get shoppers that spend $200, but once in a blue moon. This is absolutely a mistake.” The owner of Palenque could not be reached for comment. A counterman said, “No, that doesn’t happen.” Robert Rector of The Heritage Foundation called the USDA’s anti-fraud procedures “a joke.” “There’s virtually no oversight or effort from the USDA to stop this at all,” Rector said. “A store gets disqualified from the program and miraculously it’s back in business in the next two weeks with a new name on the front door.” The USDA works with city and state investigators to weed out fraud by chasing down tips and flagging sizable transactions, a spokeswoman said. The agency penalized 196 city stores in 2012 for phantom sales or selling ineligible items like booze and tobacco — and 137 were permanently disqualified. “Due to increased oversight and improvements to program management . . . the fraud trafficking rate has fallen significantly over the last two decades,” from 4 cents on the dollar to 1 cent, said spokeswoman Regan Hopper. http://www.nypost.com/p/news/local/brooklyn/benefit_bounty_XfJA2ir9nh1p5SJCp1Ym9I