WEBSTER PARISH, LA (KSLA) - Convincing prosecutors in the Louisiana parishes where hundreds of thousands of dollars in groceries may have been racked up in fraudulent electronic benefit card charges might be a tough sell.
U.S. Sen. David Vitter has been calling for the criminal prosecution of those who allegedly defrauded the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services SNAP program back in October.
But Louisiana Attorney General, Buddy Caldwell says that in Louisiana, original criminal jurisdiction is vested in the DA's and that law leaves his office constitutionally limited.
"Still, we have reached out to the Louisiana District Attorney's Association and offered our assistance to the affected district attorneys going forward," Caldwell writes in a news release. But one of those DA's will not be Bossier and Webster DA Schuyler Marvin.
"At some point you just have to ask yourself is this the best use of our resources, and the answer is no," said Marvin.
Marvin says it would have been very difficult to prosecute the case when it happened, and much more difficult now.
Vitter expressed disappointment last week with the announcement by DCFS that 6 SNAP recipients have been disqualified for allegedly exceeding spending limits during an electronic benefits transfer outage at 3 Walmart stores in North Louisiana.
During the outage, some EBT cardholders reportedly loaded up on groceries and charged them to the temporarily unlimited cards. Police have confirmed that there were also reports of some people simply walking out of the stores with cartloads of groceries without paying for them when the outage ended, while many others left the overflowing carts sitting in the aisles.
While DCFS says there are 12,000 people who are believed to have overspent, they are pursuing the "500 most egregious transgressors, who attempted to spend $315,386 that they did not have available in benefits."
None of that is enough for Vitter, who wants a task force set up to pursue prosecutions. He met with Louisiana Attorney General Buddy Caldwell about it on Friday, but Caldwell said his agency does not have criminal jurisdiction. However, he told Vitter that he is willing to help the district attorneys in the areas where the alleged fraud happened. That would include Caddo, Webster and DeSoto parishes.
But Caldwell said prosecuting on criminal grounds wouldn't be easy. "There's no evidence available as to who cashed the checks, who presented the cards for God sake," Caldwell said.
Cell phone video was taken at Walmart stores in Mansfield and Springhill, Louisiana that shows overflowing shopping carts, and that video has aired many times on KSLA News 12.
"I think most of the video I've seen was kind of the chaos, I guess that was good for the viewers, but the actual transactions would be from directly above each register showing the actual scanning of the items, and the presentation of the credit card and I haven't seen that," said Marvin.
The Louisiana District Attorney's Association discussed the possibilities at a meeting on Monday.
If the response from one of those local DA's to Vitter's push for criminal prosecution is any indication, criminal prosecution isn't likely.
"Beyond all reasonable doubt. And it's a heavy burden, and it's on every prosecutor in the country to do that," said Marvin.