Trafficking in SNAP Benefits
Trafficking in SNAP Benefits is the worse offense an EBT retailer can be accused of. It’s also the most common SNAP violation that the USDA charges. If your store has been accused of trafficking, the penalties are harsh and swift, and it is possible that criminal charges could be involved. However, trafficking SNAP benefits isn’t just a claim that your store misused a customer’s EBT card.
Trafficking involves an exchange of cash for SNAP benefits. This can take many different forms and the USDA’s Trafficking definition spells out six different types:
- Buying/Selling/Stealing an EBT card (or its numbers) for cash (or other items of value) is trafficking;
- Exchange guns, ammunition, explosives or drugs for SNAP benefits or an EBT card is trafficking;
- Purchasing items that have a bottle refund, discarding the contents and exchanging the bottle for the refund is trafficking;
- Purchasing food with an EBT card for purposes of selling the food to someone else is trafficking; and
- When an EBT participant purchases food with their card and exchanges it to a SNAP retailer store for cash or credit, that’s trafficking.
- Giving “cash back” on an EBT transaction, regardless of whether or not the store receives a financial benefit from the transaction.
Have I Been Charged with Trafficking?
As a retailer, there are three ways to get charged with trafficking, but all three involve a letter. The “Charge Letter” is delivered by UPS in the overnight mail, and it outlines specific allegations against your store. The most common of the trafficking charges is what is called an “EBT” case. This stands for Electronic Benefit Transfer – but it is a data analysis case. The Charge Letter looks like this:
In these charge letters, the USDA has listed the different transaction pattern categories that they think support a finding of SNAP trafficking. Attached to this letter will be a number of Exhibits with lists of transactions. The Department has testified in a number of cases that they believe these cases involve “cash back” trafficking transactions. We address what to do with an EBT SNAP trafficking charge letter here, but success in these cases almost always requires an attorney’s help.
The second type of trafficking charge letter is done by the Retailer Investigations Branch, or RIB. These charges involve an undercover agent from the USDA secret shopping your store. These letters have affidavits attached to them that look like this:
These cases are much more detail oriented than the EBT driven cases, and require an attorney to be successfully defended. We offer free consultations, so if you have received one of these letters, call us as soon as you can.
The final charge letter is the result of an Office of Inspector General investigation. These are also undercover investigations, but they’re usually conducted for purposes of criminal charges. An OIG letter looks like this:
These letters involve criminal investigations, though they do not always lead to criminal charges to the store or the store’s owner. Do not try to handle these matters on your own – we offer free consultations to help stores avoid making these problems bigger.
What To Do If You’ve Been Charged with SNAP Trafficking
Trafficking cases are serious. Because of their life long effects, you need to fight the charges brought by the USDA. We have compiled an SNAP Violation Guidebook about how the cases work and what you can expect from our representation.
However, the first steps are often the most important steps of the entire process. So here’s a quick guide to see what we are going to need from you:
- If you have transaction receipts showing the purchased items in the transactions listed by the USDA, we need them.
- We need inventory records – usually invoices and receipts for the food your store has purchased.
- Tax records (like sales tax and 1040’s) are always helpful.
- Profit and loss records are also useful. We need these.
Lastly, we’ve mentioned above that you need to contact an attorney for these cases. Our firm is the oldest and most knowledgeable SNAP Trafficking firm in the nation. We have the largest repository of knowledge on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program of any firm, and the Department knows us on a first name basis. Who you select to represent you will be a factor in the outcome of your case. Don’t settle for delaying and stalling strategies: plan your case to win your case.
Call us today for your free consultation, 1-833-SNAP-Law.