TALLAHASSEE, FL (STL.News) Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office of Statewide Prosecution joined the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Secret Service, and other federal authorities in announcing the end of a lengthy investigation involving five million dollars in benefits fraud.
“Food stamp trafficking steals from Florida’s hardworking taxpayers,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi. “The SNAP/EBT program is designed to provide services to the most vulnerable among us and for anyone to take advantage of this system is shameful. I want to thank local and federal authorities for putting an end to this scheme and look forward to my Office of Statewide Prosecution holding these defendants accountable in a court of law.”
The investigation focused on fraudulent transactions involving the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and Electronic Benefits Transfer cards, commonly known as the SNAP/EBT throughout the Jacksonville area.
Many of these fraudulent transactions occurred when individuals took advantage of taxpayers and Floridians entitled to benefits offered by SNAP/EBT. The defendants allegedly traded personal benefit cards from beneficiaries to make phony food purchases or went through a middleman ultimately swapping benefits for cash at a rate of 50 cents on the dollar. These fraudulent transactions occurred at fictitious seafood and meat shops established as part of the undercover operation. The Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution will prosecute more than 115 felony cases relating to this massive investigation.
Throughout the investigation, law enforcement conducted multiple undercover operations and created fictitious businesses where the fraudulent transaction took place. During a six-month period, undercover detectives conducted approximately 390 undercover transactions at these business, meeting with more than 130 individuals. SNAP/EBT cards are explicitly required to be used strictly for the purchase of food. The SNAP program is USDA-funded and administered in Florida by the Florida Department of Children and Families. The program provides supplemental nutrition assistance to vulnerable populations, such as seniors, children and families in economic distress.
As a result of this investigation, more than 115 individuals have been charged with felonies and 61 others with misdemeanors. The following agencies also assisted in the investigation: the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, Homeland Security Investigators, Florida Fish and Wildlife, U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Florida Department of Children and Families.