Six people in $8.5M food stamp fraud case plead guilty

The sixth of seven defendants in an estimated $8.5 million food stamp fraud case pleaded guilty Monday in Dayton’s U.S. District Court.

“It’s taxpayer money,” assistant U.S. attorney Dwight Keller said. “The federal government and the agencies that administer these programs are stewards of the federal taxpayers, so they have a responsibility … to take care of the public purse.”

William K. Lambert, 33, pleaded guilty to two federal misdemeanor fraud counts modified from felony versions. Judge Thomas Rose scheduled Lambert’s sentencing for Aug. 23. Other counts were dismissed as part of a plea deal.

Five other defendants associated with Ohio Direct Distributors LLC (ODD) have pleaded guilty with one sentenced to probation. The others are to be sentenced this summer.

Kaitlin Koher, the owner and operator of the Massillon-based food distribution business, has a June 5 hearing scheduled.

The indictment said between August 2011 and September 2017, about 93 percent of ODD’s SNAP transactions were fraudulent. Some of the transactions happened in Centerville, investigators said.

Government statistics show that in the past decade, the SNAP program has cost from $53.6 billion to $79.8 billion per year. Participation has ranged from 33.4 million to 47.6 million people during that time. estimates that yearly SNAP fraud ranges from $1 billion to $4.7 billion per year.

The 12-count indictment handed up in May 2018 indicated that ODD operated a conspiracy from July 10, 2011, until Jan. 17, 2018, to commit fraud of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly referred to as food stamps.

The indictment said ODD was a door-to-door delivery service of various beef, poultry, pork and fish products to retail customers throughout Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and West Virginia.

In 2013, ODD was re-authorized as a SNAP vendor and allowed to process commercial credit card and SNAP Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) transactions, according to court documents.

The indictment alleged ODD “knowingly and illegally caused, and encouraged the exchange, redemption and bartering of SNAP benefits for U.S. currency and other ineligible items to include gift cards and the extension of benefits.

ODD allegedly had “Eat Now, Pay Later” and “Split Payments” Programs that allowed SNAP customers to illegally stretch the scheme into a multi-month time frame. The indictment also alleged ODD of intimidation tactics with customers.

“ODD sales representatives aggressively targeted SNAP EBT recipients who had large families in hopes of maximizing potential sales to customers believed to receive large monthly SNAP benefits.”

Posing as SNAP-eligible customers, federal law enforcement agents purchased up to $400 of meat products in exchange for $400 in SNAP benefits and $15 or $20 gift cards. The transactions took place in Massillon, Loveland, Centerville and elsewhere.

The non-binding advisory guideline for Lambert is zero to six months in prison.

In other defendants’ cases: Aaron E. Luke pleaded guilty in April and is to be sentenced July 23; Andrew C. Hess pleaded guilty in December was sentenced last month to three years’ probation; Joseph E. Hendricks pleaded April 29 and is to be sentenced Aug. 13; Kyle P. Nicholson pleaded May 1, to be sentenced Aug. 23; James A. Leeson Jr. pleaded guilty in March and is to be sentenced July 24.

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