St. Louis pharmicist was convicted today of falsely reporting tht he paid $1.2 million for Department of Agriculture food stamps when he had deposited only a fraction of that amount with the federal Reserve Bank here.
Federal and state investigators said the shortage was one of the largest ever discovered in the food stamp program.
The pharmacist, Lee A. Lanier, 39, was indicted in March after a 17-month investigation of a $1,012,000 shortage in payments from his firm, Money Town, Inc., to the Federal Reserve Bank.
The missing money has not been found, not has anyone been charged in its disappearance. Prosecutors said they did not have sufficient evidence to support fraid or embezzlement indictments in connection with the disappearance of the money.
A U.S. District Court jury deliberated for 8 1/2 hours before returning the verdict. Testimony in the case took eight days.
Lanier was indicted for signing five monthly reports forms - for the months of May through September, 1975 - indicating that all of Money Town's required payments to the Federal Reserve Bank had been made.
He was acquitted of charges that he signed false reports for May and June. He was convicted of signing false reports for July, August and September.
Money Town started as a small check-cashing and money order facility located in the drive-up window of what had formerly been a dry-cleaning establishment.
It flourished inta a 10-branch operation after it started handling food stamps.
The Federal Reserve Bank records showed that between May and September, 1975, Money Town failed to make deposits totaling nearly $2 million with the bank after Missouri state auditors began to examine the firm's records in early October.
Lanier is to be sentenced May 27. He faces a maximum prison term of 15 years and fines totaling $30,000.
After the jury's verdict was read, Lanier avoided reporters and left the courthouse by a back exit. One of his attorneys said Lanier was "terribly shocked" by the conviction. No decision had been made on an appeal, the attorney said.
After Lanier was convicted, Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael W. Reap said, "I don't think we're ever going to know what happened to this million dollars. We would have to reconstruct all of Lanier's business ventures, and would take years." United States Attorney Barry A. Short said it is "unlikely" that additional indictments would be sought in the case.
According to government records introduced during the trial, Money Town outlets sold about $3.1 million in food stamps between late August, 1974, and Sept. 30, 1975. When Missouri state auditors began to examine the firm's records in early October, 1975, they determined that it was nearly $2 million in arrears in its payments to the federal bank.
They calculated that some of the firm's debts to the bank was more than four months old. Food stamp regulations require daily deposits from firms which vend more than $1,000 worth of stamps a day. In its final months, Money Town's average sales of food stamps exceeded $10,000 daily.