Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Niagara County Sheriff Jim Voutour says it was citizen outrage that sparked his office to launch an undercover probe of welfare fraud at Niagara Falls food stores.
“You know, we’d get the complaints from people who’d be in these stores and they’d call us and say, ‘You can’t believe what these people are buying (with food stamps),’” Voutour said.
Or in some cases, what they were not buying.
“We looked at some of these stores and at the amount they were processing in food stamps,” Voutour said. “We had stores that were processing enormous amounts of food stamps, but they didn’t have the inventory of (food stuffs) to support (the food stamp redemptions).”
On Monday, Voutour and Niagara County District Attorney Michael Violante dropped the hammer and arrested the owners of two Falls mini-marts, charging them with a raft of fraud related crimes.
The charges followed a four-month, undercover investigation. Investigators from the Sheriff’s Office posing as food stamp recipients were able to make a series of fraudulent transactions at both the Indian General Store, 1611 Pine Ave., and Merry Mart, 336 19th St., between September and January.
Voutour said it was shocking how easily the fraud took place.
“It took (the undercover investigators) some time and some rapport,” Voutour said, “and they made some normal purchases. But then they were able to move into the illegal stuff pretty easily.”
Charged and arraigned in Falls City Court on Monday were Jasbir Kaur and Shamsher Singh, the owners of Indian General Store.
Kaur, 52, was charged with second-degree grand larceny, misuse of food stamps, first-degree falsifying business records, first-degree tampering with public records, third-degree welfare fraud and three counts of first-degree offering a false instrument.
Singh, 59, was charged with second-degree grand larceny, misuse of food stamps, first-degree falsifying business records, first-degree tampering with public records, third-degree welfare fraud and first-degree offering a false instrument.