The manager of Kennewick's Blue Bridge Motel admitted buying groceries with food assistance cards given to him as payment for rooms.
Bhavishan Rai, 57, pleaded guilty this week in Benton County Superior Court to using customers' Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards, also called Washington Quest Cards.
The two counts of unlawful redemption of food stamps were the result of a continuing crackdown on people abusing the Food Stamp Program.
Rai was sentenced to 10 days in the county jail, with credit for one day already served. The crime carried a possible term up to one year.
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He didn't have any felony convictions before this case.
As a result of Rai's plea, the same charge against his son was dismissed without prejudice. That means prosecutors can re-file against Inderjit Kumar, 30, if new evidence comes out about his involvement.
The case began when Kennewick police got a tip about management at the 300 N. Ely St. motel trafficking in EBT cards and trading services for goods.
Detectives then contacted criminal investigators with the Department of Social and Health Services' Office of Fraud and Accountability and began a joint operation.
Police used a confidential informant who claimed they had previously swapped an EBT card for a Blue Bridge Motel room and also received a cash payment based on a percentage of the card's balance, court documents said.
The confidential informant went to the motel July 10 with an EBT card, and returned with $60 and a room key for the card, documents said. The unredeemed value of the card was $329.
Detectives then reportedly watched Rai and a female employee go shop at a grocery store and two specialty food stores in the Tri-Cities.
The confidential informant stayed in the motel room that night and told police that Rai did not return the card. Instead, he used it again in the morning at another store, documents said.
Police later searched the motel and found four more EBT cards in a desk inside the office.
DSHS clients often receive their food or cash benefits on an EBT card, which is reloaded monthly. The client's name is not embossed on the card, so it can be transferred easily to another person, though the client is assigned a PIN to access the benefits.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits can only be used to buy food.
Investigators also connected Rai to grocery trips in April and May by comparing the transaction records and store video.
Kumar reportedly was seen in a store May 10 using another man's food stamp card and entering the PIN.
Deputy Prosecutor Terry Bloor explained the dismissal of Kumar's case in court documents, saying Rai told his son to use a particular EBT card to buy groceries at that store.
The state doesn't have evidence that Kumar was otherwise involved in Rai's scheme of using the cards, Bloor wrote.
-- Kristin M. Kraemer: 582-1531; email@example.com; Twitter: @KristinMKraemer