By ISABEL VINCENT and KATE BRIQUELET in NY and JOSE ERNESTO DEVAREZ in Santiago, Dominican Republic
Last Updated: 11:57 AM, July 28, 2013
CARIB CONNECTION: A man named Jean in the Dominican city of Santiago last week sells a barrel shipped from NYC and stuffed with welfare food — part of a thriving black market.
Food-stamp fraud in New York has turned into foreign aid — to black-market profiteers in the Dominican Republic.
Last week, The Post revealed how New Yorkers on welfare are buying food with their benefit cards and shipping it in blue barrels to poor relatives in the Caribbean.
But not everyone is giving the taxpayer-funded fare to starving children abroad. The Post last week found two people hawking barrels of American products for a profit on the streets of Santiago.
“It’s a really easy way to make money, and it doesn’t cost me anything,” a seller named Maria-Teresa said Friday.
The 47-year-old Bronx native told The Post she scalps barrels of Frosted Flakes and baby formula bought with welfare money in the United States.
Maria-Teresa said she gets new barrels every few weeks from her sister, who buys everything at a Western Beef on Prospect Avenue near East 165th Street in Foxhurst.
The scamming sibling pays $75 per barrel to transport the items to the DR through Mott Haven’s Luciano Shipping. Sometimes the family fraudsters take advantage of a special: three barrels for the price of two.
Maria-Teresa said she uses some of the products but vends the rest out of her Santiago home, providing markdowns of $1 to $2 compared to what her buyers would pay in local shops.
“I don’t know how much of a business it is, but I know a lot of people are doing it,” she said.
The black-market maven even takes her customers’ requests for hot-ticket items. Her best-sellers include a 19-ounce box of Frosted Flakes, which goes for $6.50 at Dominican supermarkets. She sells it for $2 less — after her sister buys it on sale for $2.99.
But because the sister uses her Electronic Benefit Transfer card, she actually pays nothing — taxpayers foot the $2.99.
Maria-Teresa also offers a 24-ounce Kellogg’s Corn Flakes box for $2, compared to the $4 Dominican counterpart. The Kellogg’s variety costs $2.99 on sale at Western Beef.
A 23-ounce container of powdered Enfamil baby formula goes for $25 in the United States and $19 in Santiago but Maria-Teresa sells it for $15. “People want the best quality for the price, so they buy the formula made in the US,” she said.
The average monthly wage in Dominican Republic is about 7,000 pesos, or just $167, and that’s why the black market has become so profitable, Maria-Teresa said.
And the food-stamp fraud doesn’t stop there. She said her sister has Bronx grocers ring up bogus $250 transactions with her EBT card.
In exchange, the stores hand her $200 cash and pocket the rest. No goods are exchanged. Instead, Maria-Teresa’s sister sends the money to Santiago — when she’s not spending it on liquor or other nonfood items.
“We do it all the time, and a lot of people do this,” Maria-Teresa said. “It’s a way of laundering money, but it’s easier because it’s free.”
Jean, another public-assistance cheat in Santiago, told The Post he has peddled welfare food in Santiago since getting deported from New York in 2010.
A thirtysomething Haitian national, he said his sister in Queens uses her EBT card to purchase food before shipping it to him from Long Island City.
“Every other month, I receive the barrels from my sister in New York City,” he told The Post. “Whatever I don’t need, I sell.
“My sister uses food stamps to buy most of the things she sends me,” Jean added. He says the barrels are filled with cereal, baby formula, juices, olive oil and canned soup.
He said his sister uses Long Island City’s Santiago Cargo Express, where barrels full of food cost $100 to ship to the DR.
When The Post found Jean, he was lugging an empty barrel down the street and hoping to sell it to a friend for $35. Many Dominicans then use the containers to store water for their homes.