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Fundamentalist church sect leaders accused of food stamp fraud


In New Jersey, many families depend on food assistance to get by. The system, however, can be vulnerable to fraud, and federal investigators have arrested 11 members of one branch of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints on charges of food stamp fraud and money laundering.

The church leaders allegedly created an elaborate scheme to funnel food assistance funds from two of their convenience stores into their own pockets. The federal indictment claimed that the small stores recorded a volume of food stamp purchases in excess of large stores like Costco or Wal-Mart. The people purchasing food with food stamp debit cards received no merchandise, and the indictment accused the sect leaders of redirecting thousands of dollars into other front companies.

Federal prosecutors said that, between 2011 and 2013, the sect leaders educated their church members about how to stay under the radar of the government while using their food assistance benefits. Members were told to shop only at the stores operated by the leaders. Authorities identified two brothers as the ringleaders of the operation. They reportedly remain loyal to another church leader who is serving a life sentence for rape and who is their brother.

When a person is accused by the federal government of participating in a fraud or similar white-collar crime, it may be advisable to contact a criminal defense attorney as soon as possible. One of the necessary elements of this type of a charge that the prosecution needs to establish is that the defendant had the intent to defraud, and legal counsel might argue that the defendant was an unknowing participant.

Source: NBC News, "Polygamist Warren Jeffs' Followers Charged With Food Stamp Fraud", Corky Siemaszko, Feb. 24, 2016

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