* In Louisiana, luxury cars seized in trafficking case
* Cash from Texas trafficking used for video poker games
* USDA says trafficking is 1 percent of food program
WASHINGTON, Sept 26 Federal investigators
uncovered two U.S. grocery store owners who trafficked in more
than $1 million in food stamps apiece and seized four luxury
cars, including a Ferrari, from one of them, the Agriculture
Department's watchdog agency said on Wednesday.
In Lake Charles, Louisiana, the owner of two grocery stores
was ordered to pay more than $1.7 million in restitution and was
sentenced to five-and-a-half years in prison after trading food
stamps for cash and other goods, the department's inspector
general said in a report.
Investigators seized a Ferrari, Porsche, BMW and
Mercedes-Benz, and two bank accounts in the case, the report
The food stamp program, formally named the Supplemental
Nutrition Assistance Program, helps poor people buy food.
In Waco, Texas, a federal judge ordered a grocery owner to
pay $1.3 million in restitution for swapping food stamps for
cash, alcohol and tobacco. The owner was sentenced to 33 months
Some of the cash generated by the trafficking was spent on
playing video poker machines in the store, the inspector general
The Agriculture Department has come under criticism by
Republicans in Congress for not doing more to crack down on
fraud. The program is up for renewal by Congress this year and
faces complaints that its $76 billion cost is too high.
A proposal in the Republican-led U.S. House of
Representatives would cut enrollment by 5 percent as part of
sweeping budget cuts.
The Agriculture Department said trafficking has been reduced
to 1 percent of the program's cost, down from 4 percent 15 years
ago. The department permanently disqualified 1,382 stores this
year for food stamp trafficking and sanctioned 772 stores for
(Reporting By Charles Abbott; Editing by Vicki Allen)