Neighbors accused of selling food stamps for cash

YAKIMA, Wash. -- Selling food stamps for cash. Prosecutors say that plot was being carried out by a few people here in Yakima. Taking advantage of the system designed to help people with low incomes buy food.

One by one, they filed into the court. Kevin Jenkins, Christine George, Michael White, Martel Morfin, and Julian Armas. Accused of selling government food stamps for cash.

It's a twisted tale that, according to court records, began in 2011.

State investigators set up a sting at La Bodega Yakimex on North 1st Street. It involved an informant they say exchanged food stamps for cash. Investigators obtained a search warrant for the store's computer records and surveillance footage.

In Washington state, food stamp recipients use EBT Quest cards to buy food. Cards can only be used to buy eligible products. Trading them for cash is illegal.

Court documents say the footage showed neighbors handing over their EBT cards and getting money in return. Records say they received fifty cents for every dollar traded and claim the store pocketed the rest.

Transactions ranged from hundreds of dollars to just over a dollar.

Fast forward to 2014 and La Bodega is shut down. Two of its managers pleaded guilty to fraud. A third awaits trial.

Those accused of selling their stamps are staring at two felony counts each: one for trafficking in food stamps, the other for unlawful redemption. Each count carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

Two more suspects are scheduled to appear in court Friday.

Arraignments for the suspects accused of selling their food stamps are set for later this month.