For Immediate Release - February 18, 2015

Springfield Store Owner Arraigned in Connection with EBT Fraud, Allegedly Made More Than $500,000 in Fraudulent Transactions

Charged with Food Stamp Trafficking, Larceny, Device Fraud

SPRINGFIELD – The owner of a Springfield convenience store and market has been arraigned in connection with the unlawful use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and defrauding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps,” Attorney General Maura Healey announced today. He allegedly made more than $500,000 in fraudulent transactions between June 2012 and December 2014, keeping an estimated half of that for personal profit.

“We allege that this defendant regularly allowed customers using SNAP benefits to unlawfully exchange their food stamps for cash, ultimately making more than $500,000 in fraudulent transactions,” said AG Healey. “Actions such as the ones alleged in this case undermine the integrity of this system and drain dollars from the state and those who need them.” 

“Since 2013, DTA has been able to assist law enforcement with SNAP trafficking cases, and I’m pleased that these efforts are working,” said Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) Acting Commissioner Tom Massimo. “The partnerships between the USDA, DTA, the Attorney General’s Office, and local law enforcement are proving effective in stopping the criminal enterprises that defraud SNAP, and ensuring that only those who truly need these benefits receive them.”

Julio C. Rodriguez, age 55, of Springfield, was arraigned today in Hampden Superior Court on charges of Larceny over $250, Food Stamp Trafficking, and Access Device Fraud.

At the arraignment, Rodriguez pleaded not guilty to the charges and Superior Court Judge C. Jeffrey Kinder transferred the conditions from his arraignment in district court, where he was released on personal recognizance and required to surrender his passport. Judge Kinder also ordered that Rodriguez check in with the Probation Department once each month. Rodriguez is due back in Hampden Superior Court on April 17 for a pre-trial conference.

Rodriguez was indicted on the charges on Feb. 4 by a Hampden County Grand Jury. Rodriguez was previously arrested on Dec. 18, 2014 by Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office after they executed a search warrant at his store, Bethania Fish and Meat Market (Bethania), located on Main Street in Springfield. He was subsequently arraigned in Springfield District Court.

After receiving a referral from the United States Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG) in September 2013, the AG’s Office began an investigation into the alleged fraudulent use of EBT SNAP cards at Bethania.  

Bethania in Springfield is a convenience store with a fish and meat counter. The store is authorized by the USDA to accept SNAP benefits from customers for eligible items. Authorities allege that Rodriguez engaged in a scheme to traffic SNAP benefits in exchange for cash. As part of the scheme, a customer would present their EBT card to Rodriguez, who would swipe the customer’s EBT card and enter fraudulent information on a dedicated EBT terminal indicating that a customer purchased eligible groceries. Rodriguez would allegedly furnish cash to the customer for half of the amount charged to their EBT card account.

For example, if an EBT card customer wanted $50 in cash, Rodriguez would allegedly provide the customer with $50 cash and fraudulently enter a $100 grocery sale. The store account would subsequently be credited with $100 from the customer’s EBT SNAP account, providing the store with a $50 profit on the transaction. The SNAP program does not allow cash to be exchanged in lieu of benefits.

Authorities allege that Rodriguez made more than $516,000 in fraudulent transactions between June 2012 and December 2014. Authorities estimate that Rodriguez obtained approximately 50 percent in illegal profits from those transactions, which he used for operating expenses for his business. He also allegedly sent some of the money to family abroad.

These charges are allegations, and the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty.

In July 2013, the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) entered into a State Law Enforcement Bureau (SLEB) agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture – Food and Nutrition Service (USDA-FNS). The SLEB agreement enabled the Commonwealth to utilize state and local law enforcement agencies to investigate and pursue SNAP EBT fraud and abuse, including SNAP trafficking. Under the agreement, DTA has the authority to conduct investigations into possible SNAP fraud and Massachusetts law enforcement will be able to obtain EBT benefits from USDA-FNS for purposes of undercover investigations. To date, DTA has signed 106 sub-agreements with local law-enforcement across the Commonwealth, including the Attorney General’s Office and the Springfield Police Department.

Today’s hearing was handled by Assistant Attorney General Gabe Thornton through the AG’s Public Integrity Division. The investigation was handled by Financial Investigator Stephen Bethoney of the AG’s Financial Investigations Division, Massachusetts State Police assigned to the AG’s Office, the AG’s Digital Evidence Lab and State Police assigned to the Hampden County District Attorney's Office. Investigators from the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture – Office of Inspector General assisted in the investigation.