Employees at a west Columbus gas station are accused of dozens of state violations after allegedly paying cash for food stamps.
Watchdog 10 has been tracking an ongoing undercover sting operation targeting businesses that are cashing in at taxpayers’ expenses.
Investigators said food stamp trafficking can be a multi-million dollar enterprise, which is why they raided the gas station.
The owner of the gas station denied the allegations, but agents said the store’s clerks repeatedly bought food stamps benefits from an undercover investigator for 50 cents on the $1.
“So a $400 card, for example, is worth $200 dollars in cash,” said Sue Ann Cook of Ohio Investigative Unit.
Investigators also claim undercover agents were able to sell the station items that they said were stolen. The items included products like beverages and tobacco.
“Our undercover (agents) are skilled, and they use terms like ‘I just stole this, what will you give me for it?’" said Cook.
The sting operation is part of the state's crackdown on food stamp fraud.
The state said in the past five years, 17,000 people have claimed their card was lost or stolen 10 or more times.
Investigators said the crime hurts taxpayers, families in need and honest small business owners.
“Legitimate businesses shouldn't have to operate in the same environment with thieves and cheats,” said Cook.
The owner of the station will now face Ohio's Liquor Control Commission. It could suspend or revoke the store's liquor license, and agents said that could force the store to close its doors.
“In my experience it typically ends up shutting down the business,” added Cook.
Investigators said the Franklin County prosecutor is now reviewing the case to decide whether the suspects should face criminal charges.
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