Federal and state agencies banded together today to bust a multi-million dollar welfare fraud scheme that officials say was being run out of at least 20 NYC delis and bodegas.
Agents from the Department of Homeland Security Investigations and local police say they raided and shuttered a number of bodegas in predominantly Asian communities in Queens, Brooklyn and Manhattan, alleging store employees had been purchasing their customer’s Women, Infants and Children (WIC) coupons, reimbursing them with the feds and pocketing a percentage of the proceeds. The WIC program is intended to provide low-income women and children with nutritional foods and products like baby formula and bread; according the HSI, the Department of Health and the State Attorney General's office, however, bodega owners were merely providing WIC voucher holders with a cash cut instead of the intended items.
Officials say bodega owners were cashing in 20,000 vouchers per month; one store in Elmhurst, Queens, went so far as to cash 25,000 such vouchers in just one month, which is about 100 times more coupons than the average small store reimburses in that time period.
About 30 people were reportedly arrested in today's raid, and it is expected defendants will face welfare fraud charges in federal and state court.