Ocala, Florida — The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday that they had completed a nearly 4-year-long investigation into the Hay Meat Market, located at 3334 Northwest Blitchton Road, Ocala.
The Hay Meat Market opened for business in 2008. A short time later, the business became authorized to accept food stamps, better known as EBT.
A federal search warrant for fraudulent EBT activity was executed at the location on March 4, 2017.
In the search warrant, USDA Agent Jeff Blackwell said that in 2008 the store redeemed $5,272 in EBT transactions. By January 2014, the amount had increased to $54,389 per month. By 2016, the store’s owner, Soriany Lim, had redeemed $1,718,400 in EBT transactions.
According to reports, the meat market redeemed $891,459 more than the average store.
During the investigation, surveillance was conducted on the store and Agent Blackwell was able to monitor live transactions with the use of computer software.
After reviewing surveillance footage, Agent Blackwell observed a woman, later identified as Marcia Michelle Mason, 39, enter the store. Mason browsed the store, then approached the counter with a four pack of drinks. Mason’s EBT card was then debited for $749.99. Additionally, Mason visited the store twice on February 6, 2016, and charged $459.69 to her EBT.
The total for the two transactions totaled $1,209.68.
Each time, Lim handed the woman a brown paper bag. Lim later told investigators that she would place cash inside of brown paper bags and give it to the customer after each EBT transaction had been completed.
Investigators said that Lim had been paying customers 50 cents per dollar for EBT benefits.
Agent Blackwell made contact with Mason at her residence on July 1, 2016.
Initially, Mason stated, “I was not doing that.” She also threatened to “step to” Lim. Mason was then warned to stay away from the store.
Mason later confessed.
She was arrested on March 20, 2017, and charged with two counts of Welfare Fraud. She was released from the Marion County Jail on a $4,000 bond.
Lim is still under investigation. At this time, Hay Meat Market cannot process EBT transactions.
Agent Blackwell could not be reached for comment.