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Store owner, customers plead guilty to food stamp fraud

The former co-owner of a Seminole County grocery store, along with ten other customers, have pled guilty to charges related to defrauding the federal food stamp program, said Charles “Charlie” Peeler, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Georgia.

Garland Alford, 75, of Donalsonville, the former co-owner of Lake Flea Market & FDR Grocery, a convenience/grocery store located south of Donalsonville, pled guilty on Tuesday, December 11 to two counts of acquiring Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Benefits (food stamp benefits) by fraud. Mr. Alford’s plea subjects him to a maximum sentence of ten years in prison and fines of $500,000. In addition, ten customers of the store, all of whom redeemed more than $5,000 in food stamp benefits, have each pled guilty to one count of unlawfully transferring food stamp benefits in violation of law.

The customers are Jeanie Sheffield, 34, of Colquitt, Kaneesha Wooten, 23, of Bainbridge, Wendy Mitchell Prickett, 44, of Nashville, TN, and Antonio Gardner, 35, Victoria Henry, 47, Jemifer Johnson, 30, Renee Kimble, 41, Crystal Maxwell, 36, Rosanna Roupe, 33, and Kayla Wallace, 26, all of Donalsonville. Their pleas subject them to maximum sentences of five years in prison and $250,000 in fines. All pleas were entered before the Honorable Leslie J. Abrams, United States District Judge in Albany. Sentencing is scheduled for February 6, 2019.

According to the plea agreements, law enforcement officials opened a criminal investigation after learning that Mr. Alford was giving cash for food stamp benefits and allowing SNAP recipients to purchase ineligible items with their benefits. Numerous undercover transactions confirmed the illegal transactions. The average food stamp transaction at Mr. Alford’s store was $56.13, while the average transaction at similar stores in Georgia was just $97.42. Mr. Alford’s store redeemed more than $437,000 in food stamp benefits during a five-year period. A search warrant executed at the store also revealed that many of the items on the store’s shelves and in the freezers were well past their “sell by” date.

“The purpose of the food stamp program is to feed low-income families, not enrich people,” said Peeler. “This office will vigorously prosecute both store owners and food stamp recipients who abuse the system, and attempt to defraud the government. I want to commend the efforts of the Department of Agriculture, the Georgia Department of Human Resources and the Seminole County Sheriffls Office in helping put an end to this illegal activity.”

The case was investigated by the United States Department of Agriculture, Georgia Department of Human Services-Office of Inspector General and the Seminole County Sheriffs Office. Assistant United States Attorney Alan Dasher is prosecuting the case for the Government. Questions can be directed to Pamela Lightsey, Public Information Officer, United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 621-2603 or Melissa Hodges, Public Affairs Director (Contractor), United States Attorney’s Office, at (478) 765-2362.

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