They are defrauding the system and we all pay for it. The Manatee County Sheriff announced 103 new arrests today involving welfare fraud.
"I think we're sending a message that there is rampant fraud here and I think we need to do something about it, " said Sheriff Brad Steube.
Operation Meal Plan II looked for people willing to buy or sell their EBT cards. Most of us know them as food stamps, but they are now like debit cards. The government automatically loads them up each month with the amount the individual or family receives.
In this case, Sheriff Steube says people were selling them for 50 or 60 cents on the dollar.
They busted one guy named Gerald Millas. The Sheriff says he owns a pizza place and is affiliated with two others in Manatee and Sarasota counties.
"This individual was actually going out to folks and soliciting them for their EBT cards. And he would pay about 60 cents on the dollar for those cards. We pulled, through subpoena, information on Mr. Millas and we were able to determine he used 53 different EBT cards at Sam's Club. "
The value of the cards was roughly $23,000. Investigators say he spent it to buy supplies for his restaurants.
Another guy, Stephen Boyd, was tripling up on government assistant.
"We bought a card from him, one he had in Florida, at the same time he had an EBT card from Maryland, and an EBT card in South Carolina, " said Detective Jason Powell.
They were all in the same name and Social Security number.
Sheriff Steube plans to sit down with lawmakers from Manatee County to address this. He says many of the suspects used the money they made for drugs or alcohol.
"Once the money was received from us to the person who was selling the card, a couple of them said ‘I'm headed to get some rock cocaine,' " Steube said.
They've arrested 40 people so far, and they're looking for at least 60 more.
To make matters worse, Sheriff Steube says he wanted the federal government to take the cards back and zero them out.
"But we were told they couldn't do that. They said the cards were sent to people for their benefits."
Steube said he explained it was part of a fraud operation they uncovered, but the sheriff was told there was nothing they could do.
"There's a dysfunction here, don't you think? We were trying to do the right thing so we wouldn't' have to spend the money and we could zero it out. But it just didn't work out that way," he said.
So his investigations took the cards, nearly $9,000 worth, and bought baby formula.
"We donated it to a local food bank," the sheriff said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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