TAMPA BAY - For the second time in two weeks, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor held a press conference announcing that a Tampa Police Officer was fired.
“One of our officers violated the law,” Castor said.
Shortly after losing her job, Officer La Joyce Houston was arrested and charged with two counts of welfare fraud and one count of grant theft.
Castor said Houston, 47, was working with a Hillsborough County inmate to use food stamp benefit cards fraudulently for mutual gain.
According to the Tampa Police Department, detectives were listening to recorded telephone conversations of an inmate as part of an investigation on August 8. The inmate, Rita Girven, has an extensive criminal record with 49 felony charges. Over the course of nine weeks, they discovered that Girven spoke to Houston on the phone at least 35 times.
During one of those calls, the inmate told Houston where to find her government food assistant card, also referred to as an EBT card. Houston got the inmate's card and purchased $365 worth of groceries. Then she gave the card to a member of her family, and for each dollar the family member spent, 0.50 was given to Houston.
Houston took the money that her family member gave her and placed it in Girven's jail canteen account, the report states.
Chief Jane Castor fired Houston Thursday at 1:30 p.m., then the suspect was transported to Hillsborough County jail.
Girven was also charged with Welfare Fraud for allowing Houston to use her EBT card.
The card was in Girven's name as well as her 12-year-old child's name, but the child had been in the care of family members since birth. It was determined that Girven didn't provide any financial support to the child.
Houston's husband, Eric Houston also works for the Tampa Police Department as a homicide detective. There's no evidence that Eric was involved in any criminal activity, but the department is conducting an investigation internally.
The police chief said she was really disappointed, but that the public’s faith should not falter in the Tampa Police Department, because the majority of their officers are serving the public with integrity every day.
The firing and arrest comes just weeks after two other TPD officers were fired.
One of the officers was arrested after she was accused of taking money from an evidence area.
The other, Sergeant Ray Fernandez, was fired after he allegedly misled investigators about his involvement in the DUI arrest of a Tampa attorney which appeared to be a set up.
The charges against the attorney were dropped.
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