ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. - A local senator is outraged over the massive food stamp fraud 9 Investigates uncovered earlier this month.
Channel 9 anchor Vanessa Welch also discovered new details about how this scam works and how some people use the cash they get when they sell their food stamp cards, all funded by taxpayer dollars.
Police said through the widespread sale of the cards, taxpayer dollars end up paying for everything from prostitution to drugs. After watching what 9 Investigates uncovered, State Sen. Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando , told Welch that he wants to get tough on people abusing the system.
The situation has even angered food stamps recipients who use the cards legally.
Diane Oliver relies on food stamps to feed her family but said she has watched people in her Parramore neighborhood sell their food stamp cards for cash.
“They are beating the system,” Oliver said. “They are letting people know they have food stamps available and people are setting up appointments.”
Undercover video obtained by Channel 9 indicates that what Oliver said she has seen in her neighborhood is also happening in other parts of central Florida.
Shot from inside a central Florida Sam’s Club, police said the video shows Sue Robinson using several food stamp cards that she bought to later purchase items for her son’s business, the Crab Stop in Daytona Beach.
The video shows her swiping at least four cards, and yet no one at the store checked her ID. Welch discovered that they are not required to check for identification.
After watching Robinson make purchases on the cards for nine months, police now estimate Robinson at $1 million in food stamp fraud.
As a result, Robinson was arrested and is awaiting trial.
Welch showed one of central Florida’s most powerful state legislators the video.
“It needs to be addressed. It’s a big problem,” said Gardiner, who is set to take over as senate president after the 2014 elections.
Welch also told Gardiner what police say many people are doing with the cash once they sell their food stamp cards.
In an earlier interview, Detective Scott Frantz with the Daytona Beach Police Department said, “We’ve got reports of everything you can possibly think of, from drugs to prostitution.”
Gardiner was outraged.
“When you see this story, it’s really an eye-opener,” Gardiner said. “Those individuals who are clearly involved in fraud shouldn’t be allowed back into the program. It should be a lifetime ban.”
Daytona Beach police estimate three stores in their city scammed taxpayers out of more than $1.3 million in one year. The one store owner convicted so far served two months' probation.
After seeing what 9 Investigates uncovered, Gardiner wants to make changes in state law, increasing penalties for people selling food stamp cards and the store owners who buy the cards.
“Once you start getting penalties to a place where these store owners know they can lose their licenses, then people start to take it serious,” Gardiner said.
The food stamps cards are typically sold for 50 cents on the dollar. The seller gets the cash, while the buyers get a card they can use to purchase groceries.
Gardiner said he plans to show Welch’s story to his colleagues to get tough legislation passed next session.
Beyond the enhanced penalties, he would like to see if the state could require stores to check identification when customers use the cards.
The Florida Department of Children and Families is also taking action. Within the next few weeks, DCF will roll out a new fraud monitoring system similar to what is currently used by credit card companies.