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Even though investigations take considerable time and manpower, officials are optimistic about cutting down the fraud. Early last year, agents and inspectors from the Agriculture Department joined forces with the FBI and the Secret Service partly to probe organized crime's involvement in food-stamp fraud. The redemption system helps net violators, who must sign a receipt at a bank to convert food stamps to cash. This creates a telltale paper trail. "There are a lot of stamp scams," says Robert Mueller, chief of the criminal division at the U.S. Attorney's office in Boston. "But compared to narcotics cases, for example, there is usually a lot more evidence." Predicts Special Assistant U.S. Attorney Peter Robinson, whose San Francisco office has launched major investigations: "When the arrests and indictments come, they will come en masse."