Charges: Fraud sent Minnesota food stamp purchases to Africa - KMSP-TV

CHARGES: Food stamp fraud sent illegally-purchased groceries to Africa

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ST. PAUL, Minn. (KMSP) -

Three people were charged Wednesday in connection with a criminal ring involving Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards used to purchase groceries in the Twin Cities, which were then shipped overseas for sale in Africa.

According to the charges, the fraud operation targeted EBT card holders at homeless shelters, who were offered 50 cents on the dollar for their food stamp benefits. The suspects then made bulk purchases of groceries like ramen noodles and soda, which were shipped to Liberia.

THE SUSPECTS

Noni Shanita Snider, 39, of Eden Prairie

- One count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance
- One count conspiracy to commit a felony

Walter Carr Cooper, 38, of Plymouth

- One count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance
- One count conspiracy to commit a felony

Nyla Jean Newburgh, 40, of Minneapolis

- Conspiracy to commit a gross misdemeanor

According to the charges, the criminal ring spanned several months in 2012 and involving the theft of thousands of dollars in benefits though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps.

GROCERY PURCHASES RAISED RED FLAG

According to the charges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture referred a tip to the Ramsey County attorney's office fraud unit about bulk purchases of non-perishable items with SNAP benefits, which were then shipped to Africa.

CAUGHT ON VIDEO

Surveillance footage from a Wal-Mart in St. Paul and a Sam's Club in St. Louis Park helped investigators identify Cooper and Snider.

HOW THE OPERATION WORKED

The investigation revealed Cooper formed a business called Floxy Enterprises in 2008 to handle the transactions and ship the groceries to Liberia.

As a one-time employee of the Minnesota Department of Human Services, Cooper's work files contained records connected to Floxy, including shipping prices and shipment tracking records. Most often the groceries were pre-paid for using the fraudulently-obtained EBT cards and then picked up the following day and transferred to a storage unit in preparation for shipping.

Snider would approach individual EBT card holder at homeless shelters and offer them 50 cents on the dollar for their benefits. When investigators searched Snider, they found 3 EBT cards and 7 EBT receipts, as well as evidence related to the recipients' monthly benefit amounts and PINs.

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