An off-duty Department of Social Services worker was the catalyst for a months-long investigation into possibly food stamp fraud that culminated Sunday with the arrest of a Sampson County man on multiple felony charges.
Felipe Pablo Mendoza, 32, of 9496 Garland Highway, Clinton, now faces six counts of buy/sell/distribute food stamps, all felonies. Clinton Police officials say they don’t anticipate any further charges to be lodged nor any more arrests made in the case.
Mendoza is charged with allowing others to use his DSS assigned EBT card to purchase grocery items for a fee.
The Electronic Benefit Transfer is an electronic system that allows state welfare departments to issue benefits via a magnetically encoded payment card. Benefits provided via EBT are typically of two general categories: food and cash benefits. Food benefits are federally authorized benefits that can be used only to purchase food and non-alcoholic beverages. Food benefits are distributed through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly the Food Stamp Program. Cash benefits include state general assistance, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits and refugee benefits.
“He (Mendoza) was letting people use his card to buy grocery items, and they’d pay him a fee to use it. They’d get groceries and he’d get the cash benefit from allowing them to use it.”
Mendoza is accused of trading the card for cash on six different occasions, beginning back in 2009. King could not give a specific amount of money that Mendoza made, but did say the charges against him involved less than a total $500.
City investigators were brought into the probe on April 11, but Clinton Detective Sgt. Robbie King said DSS workers had begun an investigation months before, diligently delving into the case.
“They did a great deal of work on their end first,” King stressed, tipping his hat to DSS staff for their diligence in investigating and preparing a case. “They did a great job.”
In fact, King said, it was a DSS worker who first alerted others at the agency of the potential fraud. “One of the DSS staff actually was in a place of business one day and witnessed what was going in.” That, he said, is what prompted the investigation.
Mendoza was placed under a $30,000 bond at the time of his arrest but has since been released. He is expected to make his first appearance in Sampson District Court July 18.