9 Investigates crackdown on food stamp fraud

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ORLANDO, Fla. —

9 Investigates first exposed people stealing millions of your tax dollars by abusing Florida’s food stamp program.

A new measure would offer cash to people who turn in the thieves. This bill was based on the investigations Channel 9's Vanessa Welch has done during the past year.

Viewers were angry when they saw video of a woman swiping one food stamp card after another  at a local Sam's Club.   Lawmakers were angry, too, and drafted a bill that hands out big rewards to anyone who helps catch food stamp cheaters.

The police video Channel 9 first exposed months ago shows how easy it is for an undercover detective to sell a food stamp card for cash. 

"Is there any way I can get $200 for my card?" the agent asked.

"Give me half an hour," the store owner told him.

Police said store owners buy the cards for pennies on the dollar and then use the card to buy merchandise for their shops.

“I have to give Channel 9 credit for bringing this forward and really showing us,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner.

Gardiner took Channel 9's story to Tallahassee and helped draft a new law that would encourage people to report food stamp fraud.

If it passes, tipsters will be eligible for big money.   If you report fraud, then you are eligible for a reward up to 10 percent of what the fraud is.

Under the proposed bill, whistle-blowers could get a reward of up to $500,000.

People scamming public assistance costs Florida taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.

Local detectives told 9 Investigates food stamp fraud is so widespread they can’t stop it, partly due to weak penalties.

One man was caught buying food stamp cards at his store in Daytona Beach but only got probation.

Another provision in the bill Gardiner worked on would  increase the penalties for food  stamp fraud.

“Anytime you put a penalty in place, especially a felony, that gets people’s attention," said Gardiner.

A detective who works on the cases told 9 Investigates he thinks the new bill would help cut down food stamp fraud, especially if word gets out that more people are going to prison.