SAVANNAH — Federal prosecutors have indicted 54 people, including three from Clayton County, for their alleged roles in a “massive” fraud on two need-based nutritional programs.
Southern District U.S. Attorney Edward J. Tarver said the federal indicted was unsealed this week in Savannah.
“The indictment represents one of the largest federal food program frauds ever prosecuted, which fraud allegedly involved the purchase of over $18 million in WIC vouchers and food stamp benefits for cash through a number of purported grocery stores set up throughout Georgia,” he said.
Isaac “Ike” Martin, 37, of Jonesboro and John “JP” P. Jones, 39, and Jesse “Jay Mac” McCoy, 42, both of Ellenwood were indicted with 51 others, mostly from the Savannah and Middle Georgia region.
Each of the 54 defendants listed in the indictment have been charged with one count of mail and wire fraud conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000, and one count of money laundering conspiracy, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $500,000. The United States further seeks the forfeiture of $20 million and various bank accounts and assets, including a 2008 Land Rover and a 2008 Mercedes Benz, said Tarver. The Women, Infant and Children program provides infant formula, juice, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables, and other healthy foods to low-income pregnant and postpartum women, and to infants and children up to 5 who are nutritionally at risk.
Participants in the WIC program receive three-month supplies of vouchers, which they can exchange at authorized stores for the healthy foods listed on the vouchers. The Food Stamp Program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, provides benefits to low-income families through Electronic Benefit Transfer cards, which are similar to debit cards.
It is a crime to exchange WIC or food stamp benefits for cash, said Tarver. Both programs are administered through the U.S. Department of Agriculture and paid for by federal tax dollars.
The 54-defendant indictment alleges that a number of defendants conspired to open purported grocery stores in cities including Riverdale for the purpose of buying WIC and Food Stamp benefits for cash, said Tarver.
“Once the purported stores were opened and approved as WIC and food stamp vendors, many of the defendants allegedly canvassed low-income neighborhoods and solicited participants to illegally exchange their benefits not for food, but for cash,” he said.
The defendants then allegedly bought WIC and food stamp benefits for cash at a fraction of the amount they received from the USDA by redeeming the benefits they had purchased. The defendants also allegedly conspired to launder more than $18 million in proceeds received from their fraud upon the WIC and food stamp programs, said Tarver.
“This prosecution is one of the largest federal food program frauds ever brought,” he said. “The government alleges that the defendants stole taxpayer-funded benefits intended to feed the most needy families and children in our communities.”