ALPENA - A local businessman and his daughter are expected to be back in court at 9:30 a.m. today for preliminary examinations on charges they conspired to defraud the food stamp program of over $2,000.
Phil Lindle, who once ran for Maple Ridge Township supervisor, is accused of conspiracy to commit welfare fraud and common law fraud. His daughter, Vickie Lindle, also faces criminal charges.
Lindle is owner of Z's Crossroads through a parent company, and authorities accused him of selling bath salts, potpourri and other synthetic marijuana drugs to residents in exchange for Bridge Card money.
The synthetic drugs are now illegal, and have been blamed for thousands of emergency room visits and numerous deaths nationwide, especially among young teens.
The father and daughter were arrested November 2013 following a lengthy investigation by the Department of Human Services, Office of the Inspector General and US Department of Agriculture, which netted eight other welfare fraud suspects.
At a motion hearing Feb. 6 before 23rd District Court Judge Theodore Johnson, Alpena County Prosecutor Ed Black and defense attorney Dan White provided a snapshot of the evidence as they argued over what could be admitted.
White said Lindle is innocent of wrongdoing because he was selling meat to customers for $38. The deal included a $20 package of potpourri as a promotional item. The total value of the purchase was $58, but the customer was only charged for the meat.
"The eligible item is purchased and the ineligible item is gifted," he said.
Lindle also sold energy drinks, and although the cans are almost identical, one is illegal to buy with a Bridge Card, because it is sold as a supplement. The other is legal because it has a nutrition label on the can.
"Unless Lindle pored over this and knew the difference, they'd have to prove he knowingly sold an ineligible item," White said.
White also argued that the wording of laws regarding trafficking and memos issued to clarify laws were contradictory.
"He could have put the two items in a basket, added a bow and sold them that way," White told the judge. "I don't want to play the semantics game of price versus value versus cost."
Black countered that the purpose of the food stamp program "is to provide food for the benefit of the health and welfare of the general public. You're supposed to be purchasing food with these things, not promotional items."
In order to cover the cost of the synthetic marijuana, Lindle elevated the cost of the meat, Black said. He also alleged Lindle sold cigarettes and synthetic marijuana with packages of chicken and cheese .
"The defendant used the system so he could sell potpourri to people at a premium rate, using food stamp benefits," he said.
Johnson said he will have to listen to the testimony at the examination hearing to determine if it can be used at trial.
Preliminary examinations provide the court an opportunity to look at the evidence and see if there is enough for a trial. The law allows these hearings to be canceled in advance.
Betsy Lehndorff can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5693. Follow Betsy on Twitter @bl_alpenanews.