DA slams ‘Food Stamp 50’

Twenty-two months after Kingston police and county Department of Social Services investigators began looking into allegations of food-stamp fraud at a Midtown gas station, the hammer came down on former owner Kanwarjit Singh. On Monday, an Ulster County grand jury returned an 18-count indictment accusing him of turning the Sunoco Station on Broadway into food-stamp money laundering service for scores of recipients. So far, 50 recipients have been charged or have pending charges as a result of the probe.

District Attorney Holley Carnright announced the indictment of Singh, a 38-year-old Wappingers Falls resident, at an Oct. 17 press conference in the legislative chambers of the County Office Building where he was joined by Social Services Commissioner Roberto Rodriguez and representatives from the KPD. Singh, who remains free on bail, was charged with felony grand larceny and misuse of food stamps; two counts of felony falsifying business records; four felony counts of offering a false instrument for filing; and 10 felony counts of criminal tax fraud.

Carnright said the charges stem from a pattern of fraud at the Sunoco station at the corner of Broadway and Franklin Street which Singh ran under the corporate title of Virk Convenient Mart Inc. (The station has since changed ownership.) According to Carnright, Singh and clerks in his employ allowed customers to trade their food stamps for prohibited items like beer or cigarettes, or for cash, in exchange for a 100 percent markup. In a typical exchange, Carnright said, the clerk would swipe the customer’s benefit card for $100, then open the register and hand them $100 in cash. The clerk would then ring up another $100 charge — the store’s fee for the transaction. The entire $200 would be reimbursed by taxpayers via the federally funded State Nutrition Assistance Program.

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Between January 2010 — when KPD Detective Norman Good and DSS officials began investigating the scam based on a tip — and November 2010, when police raided the store and ended the fraud, the store racked up $750,000 in food stamp transactions, a sum comparable to that brought in by the vastly larger Hannaford supermarket in Kingston Plaza. At least $320,000 of those charges, officials believe, were fraudulent. Assistant District Attorney Joshua Povill said Singh tried to duck scrutiny by avoiding ringing up whole dollar amounts, which rarely occur in legitimate retail transactions. According to Povill, about $66,000 of the allegedly fraudulent charges were entered in increments of $99.98.

On Nov. 9, 2010, Kingston cops arrested two clerks and seized boxes of business records and the state-issued machines which process food-stamp transactions. Singh, who was traveling in India at the time of the raid, returned to Kingston to face the charges one week later. His father, Anup Virk, meanwhile was charged with welfare fraud for claiming the gas station as a residence, signing up for food stamps and exchanging them at the store. According to Povill, Virk’s involvement in the case was largely limited to signing papers handed to him by his son. He is not expected to face felony charges. A clerk arrested in November cooperated with the investigation and was expected to plead guilty to lesser charges this week.

More than 120 took part

Following the November raid, the DA’s office, Kingston cops and DSS investigators pored over the gas stations food stamp transaction records and found evidence that more than 120 Sunoco customers had traded benefits for cash.

There is one comment

  1. Chris Heitzman

    Going after the people who took advantage of the situation is not a good idea for a number of reasons.

    1. You aren’t going to get the money from back from them. They were already on food stamps remember?
    2. Crime is going to up as a result. Whether it was to feed a drug addiction or to pay the rent (and now to feed the family), these people will always find a way to get the money. Instead of fraud, the methods with now be in the form of increased robbery, prostitution, and drug dealing in mid-town. If nothing else look at it mathematically. Once these people commit these crimes and get locked up, how much money will tax payers be losing by keeping them in prison?
    3. You are going to further alienate the mid-town community from law enforcement and government. The children are going to go hungry and be raised to understand it was the powers that be that leaned on the parents and tried to get blood from a stone. This opens the door to increased gang populations and activity in our community. semi-organized crime will be presented as a reliable source of income, food, and security. Even the neighbors of these people will feel resentment at having to live in the situation officials will have created.

    What’s the solution? These people have no money, but what they do have is time. Punish them by taking their time. Put them to work in soup kitchens, street cleaning/maintenance programs, etc. Establish an incentive program of debt forgiveness based on reporting criminal activity. You have an army of 50 people who cannot pay, but can work off their debt. Mid-town needs a facelift, and many hands make lighter work.

    Whatever you do, do not punish the children. If someone took away 20% of your food for a year you would feel it. That treads very near to cruel and unusual punishment.

    What these people did was wrong, but not entirely evil. They abused the system. But abuse should not beget abuse.

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