By Kelli Stopczynski (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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6:13 PM EDT, August 10, 2011
BERRIEN COUNTY – A St. Joseph, Michigan teen allegedly bought soft drinks with food stamp money and planned to return the empty cans for cash. But it’s unclear whether his actions were illegal.
Harding’s Supermarket manager Mike Turner is pretty laid back by nature, but what he witnessed behind his Niles Ave. store Tuesday really bothered him.
“That’s my tax money going down into the dirt. It kind of aggravated me,” he said. “They weren’t consuming the [soda], they were throwing it away just to get cash.”
According to St. Joseph Police Sgt. Steve Neubecker, the 13-year-old boy and a friend bought six cases of Sunkist with a Bridge card – a debit card used by low income families in place of paper food stamps to buy groceries or get cash. Then the boys allegedly pushed their shopping cart of soda into an alley behind the store where they began emptying the cans.
“My assistant was on lunch and he happened to see our cart out there. He didn't know what they were doing, so he called me and I went out there and asked them ‘Why are you dumping pop?’ Turner recalled. “[They replied], ‘Because we need to bring them back in for the 10 cents.’”
Turner called police, but an employee from the nearby Laundry Village had already alerted officers there was suspicious activity behind the supermarket.
Michigan law allows people to exchange aluminum cans for cash at some stores. The teen admitted to Neubecker he was attempting to get money for the 72 cans in his cart. The boy’s mom told police she gave her son the card to buy soda and a bag of chips and was unaware he would use it to buy cases of pop instead.
“He was visibly crying and upset,” Neubecker said.
But Turner said he didn’t see signs of remorse from the boy.
“I told them to stop what they were doing and they said, 'OK, we'll just leave.' They had no concern whatsoever that they had been caught,” he said. “To me that’s just fraud – you’re not using the card as it’s intended to be used.”
Police questioned the boy before releasing him to his mother. St. Joseph police turned their report over to the Berrien County Prosecutor’s Office, leaving the state to decide whether to file criminal charges against the teen.