The scene at G&S Food Mart here last Thursday morning was typical for a corner store, as customers returned and cars stopped to refuel.
A day earlier, however, community speculation began to spread about what federal and local law enforcement were looking for when they closed the store Wednesday afternoon.
The Blackshear convenience store was searched in connection with an ongoing criminal investigation, though lawmen say they will not discuss the nature of the probe and whom may be its focus. Sources indicate law enforcement’s presence at the store is related to activity involving lottery tickets and the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps).
Investigators reportedly seized items from the store. No arrests have been announced.
Lawmen with the Pierce County Sheriff’s Office and Blackshear Police Department were seen at the store with federal agents wearing identifiers for Homeland Security Investigations, the Secret Service and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Office of the Inspector General.
Aside from the G&S Food Mart, two Blackshear homes were also believed to be searched, one each on Jenkins and Jane streets. Witnesses reported seeing multiple law enforcement officers operating at the residences.
The city of Blackshear business license for G&S Food Mart is issued to Sureshbhai M. Patel, who is also listed as co-owner of the property with Dipikabehen Patel, according to Pierce County Tax Assessor’s Office records. The store is located at the corner of U.S. Highway 84 and Ware Street, though the mailing address listed on its tax record is 711 Jenkins St.
The tax record for the Jenkins Street residence lists Sureshi and Gayatriben Patel as owners, but with a tax bill mailing address of 931 Jane St. The Jane Street home, on the corner of Pinehurst Drive, has owners listed as S.M. and D.M. Patel.
A Times reporter visited G&S Food Mart Thursday seeking comment. A store operator said the authorities had taken items, but allowed the store to continue operating.
“We’re just waiting for answers,” she said.
Blackshear Police Chief Chris Wright and Pierce County Sheriff Ramsey Bennett have declined comment on all questions about the case. They released a statement Thursday acknowledging cooperation with federal authorities to carry out three search warrants Wednesday in Blackshear, but offered no further details.
Questions referred to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Georgia in Savannah received the same response. First Assistant U.S. Attorney James D. Durham said Friday the office would have no comment on the case or general questions about the time frame of federal investigations.
A check of federal criminal court records for the Southern District did not reveal any filings matching owner names listed on the three properties included in last week’s search. As a procedural note, federal judges may grant requests to seal search warrant applications when deemed necessary for an ongoing investigation. There has not yet been any confirmation that has occurred.
Read more top stories available in the December 23, 2015 edition of The Blackshear Times(Subscribers click here to log in and read the entire paper online.)
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