Updated: 03/05/2014 10:17 PM
Created: 03/05/2014 3:16 PM KSTP.com
By: Leslie Dyste
Three people were charged Wednesday in connection to an extensive welfare fraud scheme. The scheme involved using EBT cards to purchase products in the Twin Cities and then ship them overseas for sale in Africa.
According to the Ramsey County Attorney's Office, 39-year-old Noni Shanita Snider of Eden Prairie was charged with one count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance and one count conspiracy to commit a felony; 38-year-old Walter Carr Cooper of Plymouth was charged with one count of wrongfully obtaining public assistance and one count conspiracy to commit a felony; and 40-year-old Nyla Jean Newburgh of Minneapolis was charged with conspiracy to commit a gross misdemeanor.
The criminal ring allegedly occurred during several months in 2012, and involved the theft of thousands of dollars in benefits through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).
According to the criminal complaint, authorities received a tip about a number of individuals who were purchasing large amounts of non-perishable items including pop and Ramen noodles with SNAP benefits and then shipping them to Africa.
EBT SNAP cards function much like a credit or debit card. A recipient swipes the card wherever he or she purchases food and enters a four-digit PIN to complete the purchase.
Investigators identified Cooper and Snider as suspects from surveillance footage from Wal-Mart in St. Paul and Sam's Club in St. Louis Park.
Investigators learned Cooper formed Floxy Enterprises in 2008 to use as a conduit for transactions and the transfer of goods to Liberia. At one time, Cooper was an employee of the Minnesota Department of Health and Human Services.
To get the EBT cards, Snider would approach EBT cardholders at homeless shelters and offer them 50 cents on the dollar for their benefits. Some of the cardholders would also give Snider their PIN numbers.
“The safety net that SNAP provides to needy families is an important part of helping people out of poverty in our community. In order to sustain our community’s safety net, the integrity and public confidence of the Food Stamp Program must be upheld and government should take appropriate means to protect our public investment,” said Ramsey County Attorney John Choi.