Florida sheriff’s undercover sting busts $2.8M welfare fraud scam

A food stamp fraud scheme that accepted benefits cards that are supposed to help feed poor people was making some people richer by almost $3 million – at taxpayer expense.

foodstamps1218newestThe Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has broken up a ring that used electronic benefit transfer cards – EBTs – to convert payments that should have been used for groceries into cash, with one mom-and-pop store getting a 50 percent mark-up to make the payments.

The scam took the federal government for $2.8 million, television stations reported.

According to WPTV, an NBC affiliate, 24 people were arrested and about 40 more warrants have been issued from the two-year investigation, dubbed “Operation Money Tree” by the sheriff’s office.

According to ABC affiliate WPBF, the ring was centered around the Fajitas Supermarket in Palm Springs.

“On multiple occasions, we would send in an undercover agent and ask for $200 cash,” Palm Beach Sheriff’s Capt. Eric Coleman told reporters during a news conference Monday. “They would charge the benefit card $300 and hand the undercover agent $200 in cash.”

One of those arrested, Carlos Del-Rio, a father of eight in Greenacres who is disabled from a motorcycle accident, told CBS affiliate WPEC that the store would keep $50 of every $100 it would debit his account, and give him the remainder in cash.

He said he used the store to get money to pay bills.

“I did what I did to survive,” he said, in an on-camera interview. “I got caught doing something I wasn’t supposed to do … I wasn’t trying to get over on anybody.”

However, at a news conference, detectives told reporters the supermarket was making EBT payments at a rate that would have been expected for a store three times larger.

The federal government – which has been pushing the use of food stamps since the Obama administration began – should have noticed, Coleman said.

But nobody did notice.

In the Age of Obama, when food stamp use has risen 70 percent in five years, is anyone really surprised?

Check out the WPTV report here.


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