On Wednesday, we watched as the Manatee Sheriff's Office walked dozens of men and women into their offices after being arrested for food stamp fraud.
They talked about one man, Gerald Millas, who owns a Pizza Pro's restaurant and is affiliated with two other pizza places in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Deputies say Millas bought at least 53 EBT cards for 60 cents on the dollar.
Investigators say he then used the cards, which amounted to $23,000, at Sam's Club to buy supplies for his restaurants.
Deputies also talked about Stephen Boyd. He was arrested with three EBT cards. They were all in his name but from three different states.
The sheriff was astonished, saying, "It's broken, there's something wrong here. if you can use your same name and get three different sets of state's cards."
Craig McNees says the system is not only broken, but it's been that way for decades.
"If Americans knew how poorly this program is set up and run and how rampant the fraud is, it would have been shut down 30 years ago," he said.
McNees is a former food stamp certification worker, Class II for the State of Florida. He was responsible for verifying people's benefits and approving food stamps.
He says he was a tough job with easy burn out. McNees say people got away with getting more money by lying about their income and how many dependents they had.
"It was disgusting, the job. No one stayed in that job. It was an entry level job, once you got in, you got out," he said.
McNees says there are no checks and balances to verify what people are saying is true, so many got away with it.
"It's easy money. Very little chance of getting caught. And if you do get caught, nothing happens to you," he said.
Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube plans to meet with Congressman Vern Buchanan and Florida's CFO Jeff Atwater. Steube says he hopes they can figure out a way to make it harder to use someone else's EBT card.
"To me this is a huge fraud through the federal government and through our state and it affects everyone of us in this room that pays taxes," Sheriff Steube said.
$78.4 billion was paid out last year in the United States for food stamps. $400 million of that was paid in Florida.
There's no real way to determine how much of that got into the wrong hands or was used for the wrong purposes.
McNees says there's only one way to fix this problem.
"I'd eliminate the program, shut it down completely and start over," he said.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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