Alcohol theft syndicates cashing in on stolen liquor, disguising illegal food stamp purchases
BATON ROUGE – Sheriff’s deputies are trying to crack down on businesses operating two-fold fronts: selling stolen alcohol and disguising purchases so customers can illegally use food stamps to buy liquor and cigarettes.
A store owner was arrested in a series of ongoing investigations headed by the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office Wednesday. And, he may not be the only one, sources told WBRZ.
Antar Aliwoig, 36, was charged with organized retail theft, government benefit fraud and wire and credit card fraud. Aliwoig owns the Buffalo Food Mart on Groom Road where a series of stakeouts showed him running the fraud syndicate, deputies wrote in an arrest report.
Detectives said Aliwoig would buy stolen alcohol from people and encourage them to keep stealing. A sheriff’s office informant was encouraged by Aliwoig to “bring… more” stolen alcohol deputies wrote in notes about a recent surveillance operation, after Aliwoig paid $40 for four bottles of liquor. Aliwoig presumably would re-sell the stolen merchandise, authorities said.
“[Buffalo Food Mart] was operating as a retail fence,” detective Chad Jones said in an interview with WBRZ about the case.
“They’d buy stolen merchandise from the street, put it on the shelves, and sell it,” Jones explained.
In another sting, Aliwoig paid $30 for two bottles of Ciroc, a bottle of Malibu and a bottle of Bacardi, deputies said.
Many times, high-volume thefts of alcohol will end up at shady businesses and offered for sale.
“It’s something we see everyday,” said Jones, who is assigned to the retail theft division at the sheriff’s office.
Aliwoig is not alone, the sheriff’s office believes. Alcohol thefts have been rampant and are escalating.
Last month, two men stole multiple cases of beer – worth about $150 from a gas station in Baton Rouge. Witnesses said two men threatened workers with a gun so they could take the cases of beer out of the store.
In some cases – as in at least one deputies noted at the store owned by Aliwoig – illegally-obtained liquor is being sold to customers using food stamp cards. Aliwoig, and others deputies said, are documenting liquor and cigarettes as milk or eggs at the cash register so the transaction can be made through a Louisiana Purchase Card – the card used for food stamps in Louisiana.
“The store would bill the state of Louisiana for authorized purchases – milk, eggs,” and other items allowed, Jones said. Alcohol is among the merchandise not allowed to be purchased using food stamps.
Aliwoig was also allowing customers to get, essentially, cash back from the food stamp card. Adding fake purchases of certain amounts and giving card-holders cash in return.
“We’d like to stop that,” Jones said.
“If we can shut down the retail fencing operation, we can maybe slow some of the actual retail theft that’s going on in this parish,” Jones said.
Store owners beware of under-the-table transactions: “You never know when the sheriff’s office is going to show up,” Jones promised.
Customers participating can be held criminally responsible.
Aliwoig’s liquor and tobacco license has been suspended.
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