According to a recent news story for Al.com, an arrest for a minor theft of EBT benefits (food stamps) has turned into a major criminal investigation in Jefferson County, Alabama. Authorities say it all began when a couple allegedly stole steaks from the Gardendale Wal-Mart a few months ago. The investigation ended in large part with the execution of over 250 arrest warrants during 11 closely coordinated police raids throughout the county. So far, 17 suspects are in custody.
Authorities report “Operation T-bone” focused on suspects alleged to be stealing from the EBT program and sending at least a portion of the profits to Yemen. The investigation was performed by a taskforce consisting of Gardendale Police, The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Jefferson County District Attorney's Office, United States Secret Service, United States Marshals, United States Treasury agents (T Feds), FBI agents, Wal-Mart global security, and other state, local and federal law enforcement agencies.
Specifically, the allegations involve the use of Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, which have replaced traditional paper food stamps. While police were interviewing the suspects who allegedly stole the steaks, one suspect supposedly told police he was stealing the steaks to give them to two local convenience stores, which he named to police.
At this point, authorities contacted Wal-Mart and told them they wanted to attempt to sell the steaks to the convenience stores mentioned. The company informed police they were already investigating those storeowners for EBT fraud. Basically the allegations were that these two storeowners were getting people to use their EBT cards to buy food from Wal-Mart and then sell it for a profit at their stores. In addition to getting people to use their own EBT cards, storeowners would allegedly purchase EBT cards for half of their face value. In other words, if someone had an EBT card with $150 on it, the storeowner would buy it for $75. The storeowner could then buy $150 worth of food and resell it at a profit, and the EBT card holder had cash he or she could spend on anything. Police suggest they used the money to buy drugs, alcohol, and tobacco, which they cannot buy under the EBT program.
As our Birmingham criminal defense attorneys can explain, large investigations such as these often result in many more allegations and charges than could actually result in conviction in court. The reason they do this is because it helps to scare people into accepting a quick plea deal that may not be very favorable to a defendant. Prosecutors will threaten defendants that if they do not take a deal, they will file even more changes that will increase the potential penalty substantially.
Authorities will also try to make the case seem more serious than it is by making irrelevant yet emotionally charged implications. For example, if the defendants happen to be from the Middle East, and they happen to send some money back to the their families, they will automatically say these defendants were supporting terrorism. You should speak with your attorney about any of these issues that may pertain to your actual situation.
It should be noted that no defendant in this case has been convicted of any crime in connection with these allegations, and all are presumed innocent unless and until they are found guilty in a court of law.