Massachusetts State Police are on a manhunt for Martin Santiago, an illegal immigrant from the Dominican Republic accused of running a multi-million dollar food stamp scam.
Santiago, 49, failed to show up for trial Thursday to face charges related to a $1.5 million scam to sell food stamps and launder cash through three stores he owns in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and police soon realized he’s on the run, The Boston Herald reports.
State police allege Santiago “forcibly removed” an ankle monitoring device around 6 a.m. and his whereabouts is currently unknown. Santiago was forced to wear the ankle monitor when he was released on a $75,000 bail following his arrest in June 2015.
“Authorities are now turning to the public for help finding Santiago, who they describe as a 5-foot, 11-inch Hispanic man weighing about 190 pounds with black hair and brown eyes,” the Herald reports.
“State police say Santiago – who is fluent in Spanish and has gone by Mark Santiago and Martin Billone Santiago – has ties to the Lawrence and Methuen areas.”
State police are urging anyone with information about the suspect to call the hotline 1-800-KAPTURE, according to MassLive.
The Eagle-Tribune reported in 2015:
Martin Santiago, 47, 252 Washington St., Haverhill, who owns three small convenience stores in Lawrence, stands accused along with two clerks of allowing food stamp customers to withdraw cash from electronic benefits cards while the stores kept a substantial fee.
Santiago was charged with trafficking in EBT benefits, money laundering, larceny over $250 and conspiracy to commit larceny, according to the Essex District Attorney’s office. …
His two clerks, Eleazar Gonzalez, 22, 252 Washington St., Haverhill, and Jose Vargas, 40, 72 Belmont St., Lawrence, both were charged with trafficking in EBT benefits and larceny over $250.
Santiago and his clerks were busted along with another Lawrence store owner after the U.S. Department of Agriculture – which oversees the food stamp program – flagged four stores in the area because a large majority of the purchases exceeded $100.
“These are small convenience stores with no (grocery) carriages and a small checkout area,” Assistant District Attorney Philip Mallard told the Eagle-Tribune. “It’s hard to get to $100 in groceries without a carriage.”
The investigation into the fraud started in 2012, when undercover USDA investigators visited the stores and reviewed Santiago’s transaction history, court documents show.
The investigation, which lasted three years, ultimately showed his businesses raked in $2.9 million in food stamp revenue, though the stores only spent $300,000 on inventory, much of it not eligible for purchase with food stamps.
“It’s an astronomical rate of return for a convenience store,” Essex District Attorney Jonathan Blodgett told the Eagle-Tribune.
“This is not a victimless crime. We all pay the price when the greedy few defraud the taxpayers out of scarce public resources that are meant to feed, house and clothe our most needy residents,” Blodgett said in a 2015 statement. “Working with our federal partners, we will continue to investigate and prosecute this type of fraud.”