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Store owner faces food stamp fraud charges

A Salem store owner was recently arrested for his part in an alleged scam that led holders of Oregon Trail cards to sell their cards for half their value. Misusing the cards - Oregon's method of distributing food stamps - qualifies as fraud under federal law.

On March 7, the 22-year-old owner of Pantiaguas Produce was arrested by Salem police and booked on multiple charges of food stamp fraud following a year-long investigation. According to police, after customers sold their Oregon Trail cards to the owner for 50 percent of their value, the owner used the cards to buy items from other stores and stock his own store's inventory. He then sold the products at full retail value to customers in his own establishment. If convicted, the man faces possible prison time, fines or probation.

According to neighbors of the store, nervous customers often formed lines before the store opened. When they left the store, they were usually holding nothing more than one orange. Eleven people thus far have been arrested, according to investigators, and the state probe continues.

Other schemes are also being examined, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services, which estimates this fraud cost taxpayers $120,000. Even though the alleged scam shows food stamp fraud to be more prevalent than DHS officials originally believed, the fraud rate is still low, according to one spokesman: "less than one-half of 1 percent here in Oregon,: he said.

Approximately 809,000 people use the Oregon Trail card, making Oregon the nation's biggest user of food stamps. Nearly 1 in 5 state residents use the program. 21 investigators work full-time to investigate fraud.

Source: Koinlocal6.com, "Salem food stamp fraud cost Ore. $120K," Carla CastaƱo, March 27, 2013

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