ABERDEEN, Wash. - Investigators with the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services raided the Northwest Passage Tavern in Aberdeen on Wednesday with the Grays Harbor Drug Task Force.
They are investigating allegations the tavern owner Dick Lantz had welfare recipients misuse their benefits to purchase food to be used in the tavern's restaurant.
According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by KIRO-7 Eyewitness news, the investigation began August 2012 when Swanson's grocery store in Hoquiam alerted police. The store employees told police that Lantz came in the store and shopped with welfare recipients on several occasions buying "commercial sized" food items. The store employees then watched the welfare recipients go out and load all the groceries in Lantz's truck. In one of the cases according to the affidavit, Lantz was seen loading up a shopping cart with a variety of items and then bringing the cart to the front of the store and then giving it to a welfare recipient. That welfare recipient then purchased the food with an EBT card using welfare benefits.
Investigators with DSHS Office of Fraud and Accountability say Lantz also used welfare recipients to purchase food at a Safeway in Aberdeen. Investigators visited the store and observed Lantz loading a cart with large quantities of meat, 10 dozen eggs and large quantities of soda. Investigators watched those groceries get loaded into Lantz's vehicle and delivered into the Northwest Passage Tavern.
On Tuesday investigators served a warrant at the tavern. Inside they recovered food they believe was purchased by the welfare recipients. They also discovered a large quantity of prescription narcotics. The Senior Director of the Office of Fraud and Accountability Steve Lowe says it appears Lantz was taking advantage of homeless welfare recipients. "The benefits should go to the right people. The folks that are basically profiting on poverty as I call it need to be taken out and they don't need to be in business," Lowe told KIRO-7.
It is unclear what the welfare recipients were getting in exchange for using their benefits to buy the tavern food, but DSHS officials say they are investigating a number of possibilities. " There's cash, there's alcohol, and there's narcotics that were found" said Lowe.
KIRO-7 South Sound Reporter Richard Thompson went to the tavern to try and get some answers from the owner, but instead got an earful from the owner's daughter. Thompson spotted Lantz outside the tavern and asked to speak about the investigation. Lantz's daughter Ginger Lantz intervened with a string of profanities aimed at Thompson and photographer Jay Johnson. Ginger Lantz shouted that the area was private property, grabbed Thompson and pushed him off the property, and then turned on photographer Johnson, wrapping her arms around him and pushing him before he had time to retreat from the property.
Dick Lantz could soon be facing welfare fraud charges as well as charges for the narcotics found inside the tavern. Investigators tell KIRO 7 there are also as many as seven welfare recipients who could also face charges.