Local man faces fraud charges

ALPENA – A 56-year-old Alpena County businessman was arrested for Bridge Card and food stamp fraud Thursday, following a multi-agency investigation dating back to January 2011.

State and county officials identified him as Phil Lindle, who works at Z’s Crossroads, 1141 US-23 N. Lindle also owns the truck stop property through Lindle Investments LLC.

He faces allegations through the Alpena County Prosecutor’s Office that he conspired to commit food stamp fraud and common law fraud.

According to Dave Akerly, director of communications for the Michigan Department of Human Services, investigators with the state Office of Inspector General discovered the convenience store was allowing food assistance clients to purchase synthetic marijuana drugs, known as spice and bath salts, with their Bridge Cards. The drugs have since been banned by Michigan law.

The card users allegedly were allowed to buy tobacco products, dog food and toiletries, which are not permitted by state regulations, Akerly said.

Nine current or former DHS clients were arrested for food stamp fraud and/or welfare fraud as a result of the investigation, Akerly said.

Federal agents with the U.S. Department of Agriculture were also involved in the investigation, he said.

Twenty-three other individuals have been disqualified from the Food Assistance Program as a result of purchases they made at the store during the investigation, but were not arrested, he said. However, other benefits recipients could lose their privileges if they made illegal purchases at the store between Jan.1, 2011, and Jan. 31, 2013.

Akerly said the Office of Inspector General is responsible for investigating instances of alleged welfare fraud in all programs administered by the Michigan department, as well as reviewing administrative policies and procedures and recommending ways of improving accountability, fraud deterrence and detection.

A local DHS official declined to comment about the case, and officials with the Alpena County Sheriff’s Office said they couldn’t be specific about where and when the arrest occurred, citing privacy laws.

Over-the-counter sales of spice, bath salts and other drugs known as synthetic marijuana were banned by Gov. Rick Snyder when he signed a law against them July 1, 2012. A sign at the convenience store said Bridge Cards were no longer accepted, a policy dating back to April.

Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at blehndorff@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5693.

Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.