HOLYOKE, MA (WGGB/WSHM) -- A Holyoke man is facing charges following a lengthy investigation into an alleged EBT fraud scheme.
Mass. State Police spokesperson David Procopio said that 55-year-old Jose Baez of Holyoke was arrested Wednesday morning after simultaneous search warrants were executed by members of the department's C-3 unit, along with State Police and Springfield Police.
Surveillance and an investigation found that Baez was allegedly buying large quantities of food, almost daily, at 90 Meat Outlet and Sweet Life Foods Company (also known as Cash and Carry), both on Avacado Street in Springfield.
"Evidence collected by Troopers and investigators indicates Baez was making the food purchases with multiple fraudulently-obtained EBT cards, in violation of legitimate use of the EBT program," Procopio added.
Springfield Police spokesperson Ryan Walsh said that Baez would "acquire EBT/SNAP cards at less than the cost of what the actual value is on the card" and then go to the stores to make the purchases.
Investigators reportedly found that after buying the food, Baez allegedly took the items to El Rincon Boricua restaurant on Lyman Street in Holyoke, which State Police said is owned by Baez's wife.
State Police noted that the EBT-acquired food was then allegedly used in the meals at the restaurant.
"In all, the investigation suggests Baez used the fraudulently-obtained cards to purchase tens of thousands of dollars of food supplies," Procopio explained, adding that authorities are still working to determine the exact total.
The Hampden County District Attorney's office said that 18 EBT cards have been seized and, so far, at least 50 violations of EBT fraud have been uncovered.
Walsh added that investigators found that more than 75 individual cards have been identified as used by Baez.
"Selling an EBT/SNAP card to someone not authorized to use it could result in criminal charges for card holders," Walsh explained.
Baez was arrested at the restaurant and was taken to the State Police barracks in Springfield for booking. He was arraigned Wednesday afternoon on charges including:
- Electronic fund transfer violation
- Public assistance fraud
- Government purchasing violation
- Money laundering
- Larceny over $1,200 by single scheme
"Anyone looking to profit from a program designed to assist those in need will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law," said Hampden County District Attorney Anthony Gulluni in a statement.
The restaurant has also been shut down due to several code violations, the D.A.'s office added.
Baez pleaded not guilty at his court appearance today. Bail was set at $5,000.
The case remains an open and active investigation.