Livingston Convenience Store Owner Indicted for USDA Benefits Fraud
FRESNO, CA—Bharpur Singh, 39, of Ceres, was indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury for defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, United States Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner announced.
According to the indictment, Singh owns and operates Dollar Mart, a convenience store in Livingston that was authorized to accept SNAP benefits from customers to pay for eligible food items through the electronic benefits transfer (EBT) card program. EBT cards, similar to debit cards, are swiped at the point of sale and the cardholder enters a Personal Identification Number. The amount of the purchase is immediately deducted from the customer’s SNAP account and the retailer’s bank account is credited dollar for dollar. Retailers are not permitted to trade cash for SNAP benefits or accept SNAP benefits as payment for ineligible items.
According to the indictment, from October 2008 until May 2014, Singh traded the benefits for cash rather than for eligible food products as required under the program. Singh would swipe a SNAP benefit recipient’s EBT card for a certain amount, give the benefit recipient cash for approximately half the amount of the “transaction,” and keep approximately one-half for himself. On numerous occasions, Singh accepted SNAP benefits as payment for ineligible items, including beer, cigarettes, toilet paper, toys and diapers.
This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Baker is prosecuting the case.
If convicted of the charges, Singh faces a maximum statutory penalty of twenty years in prison and a $250,000 fine for each wire fraud count, and five years in prison and a $10,000 fine for each count of unauthorized use of USDA benefits. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables. The charges are only allegations; the defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.