On Wednesday morning in Jefferson County, Alabama (Birmingham is in this county), authorities raided eleven corner convenience stores, and came up with seventeen suspects of EBT fraud (formal charges included public assistance fraud, fraudulent use of a credit card and theft of property). EBT, of course, means “electronic benefit transfer” and EBT cards are the magic pieces of plastic by which welfare and other entitlement beneficiaries receive the fruits of the American people’s labor. In this case, mostly “food stamps” now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Writer’s note: there are people out there who truly do need the benefits. There is no question victims of catastrophic disease, honestly disabled people, the elderly, and the like must be accommodated. Especially when they cannot work due to their condition. However, those are most likely not the people whose cards were being used.
According to authorities, how this particular round of EBT fraud went down began with the sale of the actual card(s) from its legitimate owner in exchange for cash. Card buyers usually paid half the value of the card itself for month after month of access to the $80-$240 or so that would be added to the cards electronically by the federal government. What the sellers of the cards used the money to buy is speculated to be drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, all items that are excluded from EBT benefits.
The buyers of the EBT cards, then, would go to places where they could buy food in bulk, like Walmart, and then return to their own businesses which turned out to be convenience stores in the proverbial food deserts (yes, this is an actual problem in the inner cities) and sell the bulk items at a considerable mark-up.
The authorities in Alabama are not amused.
Deputy District Attorney Cynthia Raulston said “Part of the problem, in my opinion, is now they don’t have their food stamps card so they don’t have the money to take care of their families or themselves,” Raulston said. “I think it’s a huge cycle of remaining impoverished.”
“One of the biggest issues is they’re marking up these items in the stores and charging more than what retailers would charge and they’re in the middle of food deserts with no transportation so they don’t have a lot of options,” Raulston said. “It’s not only the EBT card beneficiaries, but you’ve got the working poor paying marked up prices. They’re getting ripped off.”
So are the American tax-payers. However, Operation T-bone, as the investigation and raid has been called since it started with the confession of a man who shoplifted steaks from Walmart for resale in one of the convenience stores, is a successful collaboration between the District Attorney’s Office, the FBI, the Gardendale Police Department, the USDA, the Alabama Department of Human Resources and the Secret Service with help from Birmingham police, the U.S. Marshals, the Internal Revenue Service, Homeland Security Investigations, Walmart Global Operations, Hoover police, Pelham police, the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team and the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency. That’s a lot of diverse offices cooperating.
The AL.com story that broke this news reports some of the profits that the shop owners made from the sale of the goods bought with EBT cards that were not theirs was wired to Yemen. No race or religion was mentioned of any of the criminals involved, but their names were. All are American citizens:
Jowher Almnasoob, Abdulrahman Alqublani, Ismail Hassan Elnaham, Saleh Yahya Rowaid, Ramzi Jowher Ali Almansoob, Mujahed Jowher Ali Almansoob, Bashir Abosaleh Mohamed, Fouad Zamzami, Muneer Zindani, Sufyan Saleh, Mansoor Almansoob, Audrey Morris, Jerry Brown, Keith Lee Lucas, Travis Wayne Holmes, Murad Nooruddin and Mable Olympia Kirksey.
Wednesday’s raid is far from the end of this story. The sale of EBT cards and ensuing fraud is fairly rampant in the United States. So much so, that Walmart is actually investigating incidents on its own. This is most likely the tip of the iceberg…and some of the profits are headed to the Middle East.