SALEM, Ore. (KOIN) -- Pantiaguas Produce always seemed busy, one
neighboring business owner said, but not all the customers came out with
"(Customers) would be in the parking lot before he'd open and they'd be real nervous," the neighbor, who asked not to be identified, told KOIN.
The store at 1805 Silverton Rd. NE in Salem would open, they would go in and "they'd come back out with one orange."
The 22-year-old owner of the produce store, Holver Paniagua-Millan, was arrested by Salem Police March 7 on multiple charges following a year-long investigation for food stamp fraud.
Investigators claim those customers were selling their Oregon Trail cards for half their value, then Millan would use the cards to shop at other stores and stock his shelves.
So far in the case, 11 people have been arrested, and the investigation continues.
The alleged fraud cost the state approximately $120,000, according to the Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS).
Though food stamp fraud is more prevalent than DHS officials believed, spokesman John Carter said the fraud rate is still low.
"The level of fraud is actually less than one-half of 1 percent here in Oregon," Carter said.
The Associated Press reported in September of last year that, according to U.S. census data, Oregon leads the nation in food stamp use, at 18.9 percent, or nearly 1 in 5 Oregonians. There are approximately 809,000 Oregonians that use the program and just 21 full-time investigators. That's one investigator for every 38,000 food stamp users.
When asked if the rate was low simply because abusers have not been caught, Carter said no.
"Well, actually (the rate is) consistent like it's at that percentage," Carter said.
At this time, DHS investigators have about 4,000 open fraud cases. Carter alleges that more crackdowns, similar to the one in Salem, are coming.
-- Carla Castaño