The District Attorney’s office says a Lemon Grove business has been allowing customers to buy spice with food stamps. Prosecutors say it’s happening around the state. The question is, do store owners know they’re actually selling something illegal? NBC 7’s Greg Bledsoe reports.
A discount store in San Diego’s Lemon Grove area has been ordered to pay more than $54,000 in penalties for selling synthetic drugs to customers and accepting SNAP, or food stamps, as payment for the drugs.
According to San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis, the business – the Best $1 on Broadway – openly sold the designer drug known as “spice,” which has been illegal in California since January 2012.
In March and April, the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department conducted an undercover operation at the convenience store.
Investigators made nine separate transactions that included the purchase of spice. The business allowed the undercover officers to buy spice and other non-food items with SNAP benefits loaded on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards, according to the DA’s office.
Under SNAP, those benefits may only be used to purchase approved food items, while the purchase of non-food items is strictly prohibited.
Following the undercover sting, the DA’s office filed a civil complaint against the discount store in violation of state and federal laws.
On Tuesday, Dumanis announced a civil settlement had been reached in the consumer protection case against the Best $1 store. The business has agreed to a permanent injunction prohibiting the sale of spice and any other items not eligible for purchase with SNAP benefits.
Per the settlement, the store will also pay $54,178 in penalties – including $48,000 in civil penalties and $6,178.76 in investigation and prosecution costs.
The DA’s office said the Best $1 Store entered into the settlement without admission of wrongdoing, and worked with the DA’s office to promptly resolve the matter.
Still, Dumanis said this case should serve as a warning to all retailers that continue to illegally sell spice, which is sometimes sold under brand names including Mad Hatter, Grand Daddy Potpourri, Red Dragon, Magic Flower and Code Black.
“These designer drugs have been shown to be dangerous, and in some cases, deadly. Our Consumer Protection Unit has been warning stores not to sell these illegal substances and using civil prosecutions, we’re holding defendants accountable when they ignore state law,” Dumanis said.
In addition to the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department’s work on this case, prosecutors said the United States Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General, assisted in the portion of the investigation involving the violations of the SNAP benefit program.