Three Twin Cities residents were charged Wednesday with running a fraud ring that involved using food stamp cards from homeless people to buy tens of thousands of dollars in goods that were shipped to Liberia and sold there, the Star Tribune reports.
Noni S. Snider, 39, of Eden Prairie, and Walter C. Cooper were each charged in Ramsey County District Court with wrongfully obtaining public assistance and felony conspiracy. Nyla J. Newburgh, 40, of Minneapolis, was charged with gross-misdemeanor conspiracy.
The three conducted an "extensive welfare fraud scheme" that lasted for several months in 2012, Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said in a statement, according to the Star Tribune. “In order to sustain our community’s safety net, the integrity and public confidence of the food stamp program must be upheld."
The fraud is alleged to have involved the theft of thousands of dollars in benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.
According to the criminal complaint, Ramsey County authorities received a tip in July from the U.S. Department of Agriculture about a number of individuals who were purchasing large amounts of non-perishable items including soda and Ramen noodles with EBT SNAP cards, and then shipping the items to Africa for sale there, KSTP reports.
EBT SNAP cards function like a credit or debit card. A recipient swipes the card wherever he or she purchases food and enters a four-digit PIN to complete the purchase.
To obtain the cards, Snider allegedly approached EBT cardholders at homeless shelters and offered them 50 cents on the dollar for their benefits, according to KSTP. Some of the cardholders also gave Snider their PIN numbers.
Investigators identified Cooper and Snider as suspects from surveillance footage from Wal-Mart in St. Paul and Sam's Club in St. Louis Park.
KSTP reports that Cooper, a former employee of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, formed Floxy Enterprises in 2008 as a mechanism to send goods to Liberia, according to investigators.
When investigators searched Snider, they found three EBT cards and seven EBT receipts in her possession, according to the Star Tribune.
The criminal complaint lists about 30 shopping trips the suspects took from June 2012 to October 2012, and the individual purchases ranged from $49 to more than $1,100. The total amount spent was more than $11,000, the Star Tribune reports.
The three are due back in court next month.