9 Investigates businesses buying customers' food stamps



ORLANDO, Fla. - 9 Investigates first discovered people abusing the food stamp system by collecting benefits issued to dead relatives.

Now, Channel 9's Vanessa Welch has unearthed an even bigger scam: people selling their food stamp cards to central Florida store owners for cash.

Welch obtained undercover video showing how the scam works and why this widespread problem is costing taxpayers millions.

The video Welch obtained from law enforcement shows Sue Robinson looking like any other shopper checking out at a Sam's Club. She used food stamps cards to pay, but they were cards that police said didn't belong to her.

"We estimate her at $1 million in fraud," said Daytona Beach police Detective Scott Frantz.

Police said that covers the nine months Robinson was monitored by authorities. Robinson is accused of using tax dollars to buy food and supplies for her son's business, The Crab Stop on MLK Boulevard in Daytona Beach.

"It's every taxpayer out there who is being ripped off," Frantz told Welch.

Detectives said food stamp fraud is so widespread they can't stop it, partly due to weak penalties.

"Nobody is afraid of getting caught," Frantz said.

Police said the scam works this way: A recipient's food stamps card might have $400 on it. Some store owners will give a recipient half that amount, or $200 in cash. Then, investigators said, they'll take the card to go on a shopping spree.

Daytona Beach police shot video when searching The Crab Stop. During that search, they found 23 food stamp cards in different individuals' names.

Robinson wasn't at the store when Welch recently stopped by to get a comment. Welch also left her business card, but Robinson never called back to respond.

Robinson was arrested and awaits trial.

Police said it's easy for some to accumulate many cards. In one video authorities provided to 9 Investigates, an undercover detective posing as a food stamp recipient sells a card at the 4M along Daytona Beach's Ridgewood Avenue.

"Is there anyway I can get $200 for my card?" the detective asks the store clerk.

"Give me half an hour," the clerk responds.

While that store clerk also awaits trial following his arrest, his son told Welch he is innocent.

Investigators said they suspect people at three small family-owned stores in Daytona Beach scammed taxpayers out of more than $1.3 million in one year by purchasing the food stamps cards and then using the cards to shop and stock their own shelves.

"If we could fix the fraud problem with the EBT program, I don't think there would be a national debt," Frantz said.

Although the cards are linked to pin numbers, those access numbers are sold along with the cards. The state automatically replenishes the cards every month, so police said store owners hold on to them and keep using them to stock their businesses.

Meanwhile, they give the actual card owners 50 cents on the dollar.

"The entire program is broken," Frantz said.

One owner who was convicted recently for similar type of fraud received two months of probation for the crime.

Several lawmakers told Welch they're keeping an eye on this problem. 9 Investigates will follow up if they come up with a plan to stop the food stamps scam.