BOROUGH PARK, Brooklyn (PIX11) – WIC checks are supposed to be used to buy healthy food for babies and children. The Women, Infant and Children nutrition program is federally funded and run by the state.
But a 3 year federal and state investigation uncovered a massive food stamp scheme involving the WIC checks.
James T. Hayes, Special Agent-in-Charge of Homeland Security Investigations, said Wednesday that stores in Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan bought WIC checks for cash.
“It was a word of mouth type of thing. You have to know someone who knew someone, who knew someone at the store,” Hayes said.
Officials said customers would get a percentage of the WIC checks’ worth in cash. The deli owner would pocket the rest, once the store was reimbursed by the government.
Residents of Borough Park, Brooklyn told PIX11 the scam was going on for years in their neighborhood. Instead of the WIC checks going to buy baby formula or milk, one woman told us people would use the cash to buy cigarettes, “or they would gamble.”
According to investigators, some stores paid cash for more than 20 thousand vouchers per month.
Law enforcement arrested more than 2 dozen people in connection with the scam Wednesday. And more arrests are expected. 19 stores were raided and shut down.
Charges include welfare fraud, theft of government funds and money laundering.
WIC stands for the Woman, Infants and Children nutrition program. The food vouchers are supposed to be used for things like baby food, baby formula, milk and bread.
Law enforcement arrested up to 30 people Wednesday connected to the food stamp scam. Sources said they will be charged with welfare fraud.
It was a joint operation between the Department of Homeland Security Investigations, The New York State Department of Health and the New York State Attorney General’s Office.