SPRINGFIELD, Mass. (WWLP) – A convenience store owner accused of letting customers exchange food stamp benefits for cash denied the charges during his arraignment in Springfield District Court Friday. Julio C. Rodriguez, 55, of Springfield, pleaded not guilty to charges of larceny, food stamp trafficking, and unlawful operation of a gaming device. He was arrested Thursday following a state police search of his store, Bethania’s Fish and Meat Market on Main Street in the North End.
Rodriguez was released on personal recognizance, but because he is a legal permanent resident of the U.S. (and not a citizen), he was ordered to surrender his passport.
Bethania’s is authorized by the United States Department of Agriculture to accept customers’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, which may only be used for food items. But Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office accuses Rodriguez of defrauding the system by frequently allowing customers to trade those benefits for cash.
They allege that Rodriguez would swipe customers’ Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards and enter fraudulent information into his terminal, indicating that they had used it to purchase food. Then, he would give customers cash in half the amount that was being charged to their EBT cards; thus allowing the store to profit.
Coakley’s office says that more than two-thirds of the EBT transactions processed by the store were for purchases of more than $75, and they claim they indicate fraud.
During the police search of the store, troopers also allegedly found ten illegal gaming machines.