BANGOR, Maine — A local woman saw a young couple opening water bottles and dumping out the contents in front of Shaw’s grocery store on Saturday and pulled out her iPhone and videoed the two brazenly committing the common food stamp scam.
She then went into the store at around 1:30 p.m. to report what she saw and police were called to investigate the fraud.
The Bangor couple, a 23-year-old man and a 17-year-old female who turned 18 on Sunday, told the investigating officer that they had purchased two cases of water with funding provided by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program.
“They openly said they were dumping water” for the value of the returnables, Sgt. Paul Edwards said Monday. “They said they didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.”
The bottled water cost around $6 and the duo got $2.40 back in cash from the redeemed bottles.
U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the SNAP program, has taken a stand on water dumping — buying beverages with food stamps, dumping the liquid and returning the empties for cash — and has proposed a new rule that could disqualify recipients who engage in the practice.
The proposed new rule would update the definition of trafficking — a disqualifying action — to include the stealing of benefits. The USDA’s comment period ended Friday with only 31 comments collected.
“The final rule is expected to be published by the end of the year,” Susan Acker, USDA spokeswoman, said Monday. “Once the final rule is published, the provisions become law.”
The water dumping the Bangor couple did on Saturday is a common occurrence, Edwards said.
“This has been an ongoing problem,” he said.
Information from Saturday’s water dumping in Bangor was sent to the Maine
Attorney General’s Office, which in January requested that law enforcement agencies forward possible fraud cases to the welfare fraud prosecutor.
“It’s part of our larger effort to combat welfare benefit fraud,” Brenda Kielty, special assistant in the Attorney General’s Office, said Friday.
The short video clip taken Saturday clearly shows the couple in front of the store with the bottled water and the teenage girl dumping out one bottle of water.
The woman who took the video on her cellphone called the Bangor Daily News and said she was outraged that people on welfare were dumping public money down the drain.