Florida-Area Residents Arrested for Food Stamp Fraud
Recently, the Florida Palm County Police Department arrested three men in connection with their suspected involvement in an illegal gambling and food-stamp fraud operation. It is believed that the operation, dubbed The Hunger Games, was conducted out of a local area food market where gambling activities occurred and were subsequently cashed out through the use of EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) accounts. The men arrested include the owner/manager of the food market, and one of the business’ employees. During the six month investigation, it is believed that almost $13,000 in EBT funds were used/stolen through the gambling operations and resulting food stamp fraud.
The Boynton Beach Food Stamp Operation
EBT cards are magnetically encoded payment cards. EBT cards provide welfare recipients with innovative and easy access to food benefits provided by the state to low-income individuals and households. Essentially, EBT cards function like debit cards, and provide recipients with the funds required to purchase household essentials such as food. For the past six months, an undercover agent frequented the Boynton Beach food market in order to observe the suspicious activity. It was discovered that gamblers would visit the store and use the business’s gambling machines that were located in the back of the store. The gamblers would also purchase items with their EBT food stamp benefit card and ask for cash back to pay for the “Bolita,” a term used for illegal lotteries popular in Latin and Haitian communities.
These practices were illegal for two reasons. First, EBT cards from a legal standpoint should only be used for specific grocery items, and cannot be used to purchase alcohol or hot foods. Second, participating in the Bolita is an illegal act, and the facilitation of participation in the lottery was also illegal. When the undercover officer observed people using their EBT cards to purchase Bolita tickets, he discovered these people were purchasing prohibited items. In fact, the shelves of the store were reported as being almost empty, and the store primarily stocked items that could not be purchased with EBT cards, including hot food and beer. After illegal EBT payments were received, the owner and or employee would enter the Bolita lottery numbers into a computer and provide purchasers with blank lottery tickets. This operation allowed gamblers to receive sums of money of up to $150 from their EBT cards.
The abuse of the EBT food stamp system and the gambling on the premises of the food market provided people with the opportunity to win upwards of $16,000. Though the food market was raided on October 1st, no arrests were made until the end of the month. Now, law enforcement is still looking for other operators and participants in the gambling and EBT fraud scheme. The owner of the food market faces charges of keeping an illegal gambling house, public assistance fraud, and conducting an illegal lottery.
Let Us Help You
The recent law enforcement bust of the local Boynton Beach food market illustrates the various community-based activities that can facilitate illegal activities such as fraud. If you are located in South Miami, Florida and need criminal defense representation, contact criminal law attorney Jeffrey S. Weiner, P.A. today.