LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) — Three people were arraigned on felony charges in connection to an interstate food stamp fraud scheme, state Attorney General Dana Nessel announced on Tuesday.
“It’s because it truly is a criminal enterprise, and again, there’s multiple layers of it,” Nessel said.
Search warrants executed Wednesday, May 24, throughout metro Detroit led to the arrest and arraignment of Travis Newby, 39, of Detroit; Derriun Williams, 23, of Detroit; and Vanessa Williams, 47, of Highland Park.
The three face felony charges that could land them in prison for up to 20 years.
The alleged food stamp fraud ring is accused of illegally obtaining electronic benefit (EBT) card data from 8,000 cardholders outside Michigan, primarily from California.
The alleged ring illegally reproduced EBT cards in Michigan with the stolen data, then used them for fraudulent purchases from several Metro Detroit Sam’s Club stores.
The fraudulent purchases totaled more than $4 million.
“What we’re dealing with here is merchandise that can only be purchased with an EBT card,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Sterbis.
Officials say the group could have had help from outside the state to steal the cardholders information.
“It makes these types of crimes difficult to investigate and complex,” said Detective First Lieutenant Steve Temelko of the Michigan State Police (MSP).
The arrests are part of an ongoing investigation under the new Organized Retail Crime (ORC) Unit, established in January this year, which works with MSP as the “FORCE Team.”
“The creation of this FORCE team allows for us to remove those jurisdictional barriers,” said Temelko.
Nessel says these organized retail crimes costs Michigan businesses and consumers millions of dollars each year.
Nessel also says the eight search warrants were issued last Wednesday, thanks to the help of Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS), Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart and others.
These partnerships are especially important, Nessel said.
“Stores were shutting down all over the place in the city of Detroit because they just couldn’t afford to stay open because of the massive theft,” Nessel said.
Right now, the new force team has 8-12 ongoing investigations in the works, which they said could lead to more cases and charges.