This is part one in a special two-part investigation into the fraud committed against the State of Oklahoma. Click here to see part two.
Hundreds of dollars in junk food and soda purchased with a tax-payer funded program went to stock a convenience store's shelves as part of a massive scheme to defraud Oklahoma. That fraud led to criminal charges when investigators with the Department of Human Services' Office of Inspector General found out about the illegal activity.
Prosecutors charged Saiham Sadiq with fraud after undercover cameras captured illegal food stamp transactions at the SQ Trip on Northwest 23 in Oklahoma City. Agents sold food stamps for $0.50 on the dollar at the SQ Trip. Sometimes the agents were able to purchase synthetic marijuana. One undercover video shows Sadiq taking the agent on a shopping trip. Sadiq instructs her to purchase sodas, cotton candy, chips and other food. The groceries were then loaded up into a private vehicle and driven back SQ Trip where investigators say it was resold.
"Food stamp trafficking and food stamp fraud in general is somewhat of a problem in Oklahoma," said Keck Upchurch the Special Agent in Charge of the Food Stamp Trafficking Unit at the DHS Office of Inspector General.
Upchurch says most of the time food stamps are sold for cash or drugs. Investigators rely on tips and computer analysis to identify potential fraud. If you would like to submit a tip about food stamp fraud, click here. Many investigators focus on retailers offering to illegally purchase food stamps.
"If you focus on the retailer," Upchurch told Fox 25, "The data will lead you to all the recipients that are conducting those illegal transactions at that store."
The ultimate goal of food stamp fraud investigations is not necessarily to send people to prison. Investigators say they want to get the money stolen from taxpayers back into the system. "When these individuals defraud the system, then those moneys need to be paid back to the food stamp program because that program is for individuals that are in need," Upchurch said.
In the SQ Trip case, Sadiq ultimately pleaded guilty. He paid the state back $25,000, which investigators say is just a fraction of what the family ultimately took from the state. Another member of the family is currently facing charges for illegally possessing benefit cards as a result of that investigation. Her case has not been settled.
Food stamp fraud it just one of the investigations worked by the DHS Office of Inspector General. Click here to learn more about other investigations and how lawmakers are working to make changes in hopes of reducing the amount of fraud in the system.