SNAP Trafficking Defense: Beat the Odds

A Detroit, Michigan SNAP Retailer

There were 1,372 transactions listed in the EBT Analysis Charge Letter that our client received in September of 2021.  His store wasn't huge, but it was big for the local area.  He had about 3,000 square feet of retail space and storage, which made him bigger than the gas stations that surrounded his store, but still smaller than the distant supermarket.  He didn't have shopping carts, or shopping baskets.  Our client was proud of the store, and his customers noticed the time and effort he invested into it.

The USDA didn't know much about his store though.  They didn't know that he had worked in the store since 1992, starting as just a clerk and saving to buy a piece of the store in 1997.  A decade of hard work and saving later, our client bought the rest of the business in 2007.  This store was his life's work - his largest asset, and his family's source of income.  But the store was dependent on its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) customers.  This program used to be known as the Food Stamp Program, but the name changed when paper stamps were changed to Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards.

Now, the USDA threatened to destroy his business by prohibiting him from accepting EBT because it didn't like how his transactions appeared.

Details of the Charge Letter

Like most other EBT Analysis Charge Letters, this letter included the allegation that trafficking had occurred at the store during the January, 2021-June, 2021 "review period."  The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) didn't allege that anyone had seen trafficking, or that someone claimed to see an EBT card misused, but rather that the transactions looked "suspicious."  There were two types of transactions the USDA cited as the basis for their claim that a violation occurred:

  • Scan B2: Multiple Transactions in a Set Time Period

    In a series of EBT transactions, multiple transactions were made from the accounts of individual households within a set time period.  The USDA's Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) identified 30 sets of these transactions, the shortest of which occurred in thirty seconds.  The longest occurred over 23 hours.

  • Scan F: Large Transactions Based on Inventory

    In a series of EBT transactions, the store conducted EBT transactions that were large based on the observed store characteristics and recorded food stock.  FNS attached a list of these transactions which included more than 1,310 purchases over the review period.  The smallest was $35.41 and the largest was $325.49.  All but 38 of the transactions were under $100, and most of the transactions were less than $60.

A Strong Defense to SNAP Trafficking

Our firm was retained by the retailer quickly after he received the letter.  This gave us time to utilize two different defenses to the violation.  The first was that our client had trained his clerks in the SNAP regulations and processes, and documented it.  Although most SNAP retailers maintain training for their new store employees, 7 C.F.R. 278.6 requires that the training be documented.  This Detroit store owner had followed the regulations to the letter, and maintained a strong training and policy program.  So, we bifurcated (split in half) our defense and issued two letters - one for the training, and a second data analysis response.

No other firm in the nation has the SNAP experience that Metropolitan Law Group does in responding to a SNAP violation letter.  We use our broad experience representing retail stores to build custom and robust defenses using data, analytical studies, witness statements and other important components to attack the USDA's position.  Our brief in this matter, the second of two letters, was more than forty pages in length.  It took the Department three months to evaluate our response

Dismissal of the Trafficking Charges

On February 14th, 2022, the USDA issued a decision on the Charge Letter.  Our client in Detroit received the letter at the same time we did, through the email.  In the letter, Section Chief Sanela Ocanovic wrote the following:

"Consideration has been given to the information and evidence available to us relating to our letter of charges dated September 29, 2021, and to your replies of October 12, 2021, November 01, 2021, November 03, 2021 and November 07, 2021.  Based on the information you supplied we will not be taking further action in the matter and consider the case closed." - Sanela Ocanovic

Our law firm was thrilled with the result - especially given our client's history at the store.  It would have been a personal and professional disaster to lose the store just because the Agency didn't like how often people shopped at our client's store with their SNAP benefits.

Detroit SNAP Violation Attorney

SNAP violation defense cases are difficult.  The success rate for unrepresented retailers is extremely low.  Cases where attorneys without experience represent retailers are only slightly better than when retailers try to defend themselves.  Accordingly, we recommend that you trust your store and your investment, to a team of experts and professionals in the field of SNAP law.  We have defended hundreds of SNAP retailers in EBT Analysis cases such as this one.  We have consulted with and represented thousands of retailers in our decade of service.  We are proud of our quality attorney client relationships, and we can help your store too.

Scroll to Top