AUBURN — The owner of a Lewiston convenience store pleaded no contest Monday to felony theft in connection with a scheme to defraud the federal food welfare program by allowing customers to make non-allowable purchases with their government issued electronic debit cards.
Andre A. Beaupre, 62, of 95 High St., owner of Union Supermarket at Oak and Union streets in Lewiston pleaded no contest in Androscoggin County Superior Court to a charge of Class C theft by deception, punishable by up to five years in prison.
He was given no jail time. A prosecutor said anyone convicted of such a crime normally would face time behind bars, but several factors swayed the state against it, including Beaupre's age, the lack of a criminal record and his community service. He performs sign language interpretation at East Auburn Baptist Church and had helped out with that function at Auburn Police Department.
Given his felony conviction, he likely will no longer be able to perform that latter function, police said.
Beaupre also reportedly cooperated with investigators, admitting to making sales on ineligible items in the thousands of dollars.
He was ordered to repay the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP (formerly food stamps) $5,000, said Leanne Robbin, an assistant attorney general.
A half-dozen customers used valid so-called EBT or Electronic Benefit Transfer cards with SNAP benefits to purchase non-allowable items in Beaupre's store with him approving the purchases. The customers worked with police in making the illegal buys, which were captured on video.
One couple, working with investigators, used their cards to buy cigarettes and alcohol with their cards, which Beaupre manually entered into the Department of Health and Human Services transaction records as food items.
A special agent for the Office of Inspector General for the U.S. Department of Agriculture analyzed the EBT sales at Beaupre's store before and after he was notified of the investigation and concluded that over a two-year period, Beaupre had sold between $20,000 and $50,000 of ineligible items, Robbin told the judge Monday.
Police said Beaupre engaged in the illicit sales from June 2006 through September 2011.
He was allowed to continue taking SNAP benefits at his store pending the criminal case against him, but the Attorney General's Office has alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which administers the program, of the conviction.