Vendor Indicted for Fraudulently Buying WIC Vouchers
Defendant Allegedly Owned and Operated a WIC Store that
Illegally Purchased WIC Food Vouchers and Sold Fake Government IDs
ATLANTA – Lashunda Lovelace, also known as “Tara Beasley,” 36, of Atlanta, Georgia, was arraigned today before United States Magistrate Judge Gerrilyn G. Brill on federal charges of WIC fraud, theft of public funds, and identification document fraud. A federal grand jury indicted Lovelace on these charges on December 11, 2012. Lovelace is currently in custody and has a bond hearing scheduled for tomorrow at 3:30 p.m.
Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) is a federal program funded by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), and administered at the state level by the Georgia Department of Public Health. It is a supplemental nutrition program designed to safeguard the health of low-income mothers, expectant mothers, infants, and young children.
United States Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said, “The WIC program is a critical program to meet the basic nutritional needs of women and children in poverty. This defendant subverted the purpose of the program to line her own pockets. We will aggressively pursue those who steal federal program funding.”
“USDA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) is committed to maintaining integrity in USDA’s programs and operations. Reducing fraud in USDA’s nutrition programs is a top investigative priority. We work with the Department of Justice and other Federal and State law enforcement partners to vigorously investigate and prosecute individuals engaged in such criminal activity. During the current difficult economic climate, many families have needed additional assistance. OIG agents are determined to help ensure that taxpayer dollars for nutrition assistance are used lawfully, and that vital USDA programs are not undermined by fraud and abuse,” stated Special Agent-in-Charge Karen Citizen-Wilcox.
“The Secret Service, in conjunction with our law enforcement partners, works tirelessly to thoroughly investigate cases like this. Fraud will not be tolerated and we will continue to aggressively target individuals who abuse public trust to further their financial crime activity,” said Reginald G. Moore, Special Agent in Charge of the United States Secret Service, Atlanta Field Office.
According to United States Attorney Yates, the charges and other information presented in court: ABC KIDZ was a local retail grocery store located in Riverdale, Georgia. Lovelace was ineligible to own a WIC store. Therefore, Lovelace changed her name to “Tara Beasley,” and had an individual open ABC KIDZ in his name and apply for the store’s participation in the WIC program as a vendor. Lovelace then attended a WIC training program and held herself out to the WIC program as “Tara Beasley, the manager of ABC KIDZ.” She also opened a bank account for ABC KIDZ in which she and a relative were the only authorized signatories on the account.
The indictment alleges that, from at least October 2010 until January 2012, Lovelace operated ABC KIDZ as a grocery store. WIC regulations require WIC vendors to only sell the items listed on the WIC vouchers to the customer presenting the voucher, and under no circumstances can WIC vendors give the customer money in exchange for the vouchers. However, during the time Lovelace operated the store, she purchased WIC vouchers for approximately 30 cents on the dollar from her customers. Lovelace also sold fraudulent driver’s licenses and social security cards.
During a joint investigation conducted by the USDA OIG and the United States Secret Service, agents observed Lovelace buy 11 WIC vouchers from an individual and sell that individual driver’s licenses and social security cards. Lovelace would then redeem the illegally purchased WIC benefits for a higher value by filing fraudulent claims with the WIC program, falsely indicating the WIC benefits had been used by recipients to purchase approved food items, when in truth, the benefits were never used to purchase such items.
The charges carry a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. In determining the actual sentence, the Court will consider the United States Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding, but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Members of the public are reminded that the indictment only contains charges. The defendant is presumed innocent of the charges and it will be the government's burden to prove the defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt at trial.
This case was investigated by special agents of the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General and the United States Secret Service.
Assistant United States Attorney Karlyn J. Hunter is prosecuting the case.
For further information please contact the U.S. Attorney’s Public Information Office at USAGAN.PressEmails@usdoj.gov or (404) 581-6016. The Internet address for the HomePage for the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Northern District of Georgia is www.justice.gov/usao/gan.