Vitter responds to responses to his letter on EBT theft and fraud

Published 11/04 2013 05:38PM

Updated 11/04 2013 05:57PM

In a news release, U.S. Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) today responded to letters from Louisiana’s Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and Secretary of Department of Children and Family Services Suzy Sonnier regarding his recommendations for aggressive action in response to fraud that occurred during an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) system outage in north Louisiana. Vitter sent his
recommendations in a letter.

“I’m extremely disappointed in the response I’ve gotten from state officials,” Vitter said. “There should be serious consequences for the outrageous theft and fraud at these Louisiana retailers, and the state has authority in disqualifying and prosecuting any guilty EBT recipient.”

According to the news release, Caldwell and Sonnier committed to his request that no reimbursements be made to retailers who did not follow proper protocol. However, it states, they refused to prosecute any beneficiaries guilty of theft or fraud and deferred to USDA on disqualifying or suspending any beneficiaries. Vitter has asked Caldwell and Sonnier for a follow up meeting in Baton Rouge.

The text of Vitter’s letter to Caldwell and Sonnier is below.

ovember 4, 2013
Buddy Caldwell
Office of the Attorney General
State of Louisiana
P.O. Box 94005
Baton Rouge, LA 70821

Suzy Sonnier
Office of the Secretary
Department of Children and Family Services
P.O. Box 3776
Baton Rouge, LA 70821

Dear Attorney General Caldwell and Secretary Sonnier:

Thank you for your quick responses to my letter of October 30 regarding the outrageous incidents of food stamp theft and fraud in Louisiana on October 14.

Thank you also for clearly committing to not reimburse any vendor above any beneficiaries' benefit limits, my first request. Unfortunately, in contrast to this, I found your responses to my second and third requests really  disappointing and inadequate.

My second request urged you to disqualify or suspend from the program beneficiaries guilty of this theft and fraud. In response to this, you basically stated that you are asking permission to pursue suspensions from the program from the Obama administration, namely USDA. Why? All relevant law
clearly gives the state authority to administer the program, including authority to disqualify or suspend those guilty of theft or fraud (7 USC 2015(b)). You clearly do not have to get federal permission to do this with regard to every individual enforcement action. 

So I again urge you to take such action in these cases without first asking permission unnecessarily from the Obama administration. Given the administration's support for the almost limitless expansion of the food stamp program, I think their granting this unnecessary permission unlikely.

My third request urged you to prosecute these same beneficiaries. In response to this, you stated that this decision is up to the retailers involved. No, it isn't. Such a prosecuting decision is always up to the public prosecutor with appropriate jurisdiction. Walmart and other retailers no doubt want to pass on urging prosecution because they screwed up and, quite frankly, because they benefit from most food stamp fraud in their stores.

So again, I urge you to form a task force with the prosecutors in the local jurisdictions involved to aggressively prosecute these crimes. As I stated in my October 30 letter, these prosecutions will be fully supported by ample computer/EBT account evidence and do not depend on the active cooperation of
the retailers involved.

I would like to personally meet with both of you in Baton Rouge to discuss this further in the very near future. Thank you again for your service to Louisiana.

David Vitter                                                           
U.S. Senator   


Cc: The
Honorable Bobby Jindal

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