Cocoa convenience store owner arrested in EBT fraud bust

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COCOA, Fla. —

An 18-month investigation led to the arrest of a convenience store owner during an EBT fraud bust in Cocoa, authorities said Wednesday.

According to federal agents, Prakash Patel, the owner of Mike's Shop N' Save on Peachtree Street, allowed customers to use their EBT cards to buy beer, cigarettes, lottery tickets and synthetic marijuana.

Authorities also said card holders would receive cash back on purchases, which is not allowed by EBT.

Customer Lawyer Berry was in the store when the bust went down.

"The police just swarmed in and everybody guns drawn, they rushed in and told everybody to put your hands up. I tried to touch the ceiling," said Berry.

"Let's say you want $50 cash. He'll do a phony transaction, do $100 transaction, keep $50 cash and give you $50," said Barbara Matthews of the Cocoa Police Department.

When investigators raided the store, they said they found a number of food stamp cards with owner IDs.

Agents report as much as $367,000 in fraud within about two years.

"We know there are quite a few stores in this area that may be operating this kind of business," said Matthews. "The information is being tracked, and there may be more arrests coming."

Cocoa police told Channel 9 the investigation included several law enforcement agencies, including the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, the Department of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco and the United States District Attorney's Office.