TAMPA, FL -- FDLE investigators nabbed six Bay area clerks and shop owners in a statewide sting into food stamp fraud.
In what the Florida Department of Law Enforcement called "Operation Cash Exchange", investigators went undercover to stores across the state, posing as customers on public assistance.
They say they caught the employees on video accepting an electronic benefit transfer card, basically a 21st century version of the food stamp, for items like cigarettes and beer. In some instances they even traded the cards for cash, according to the FDLE.
But you aren't allowed to use food stamps for any of those things, and a total of 21 clerks across the state were arrested in this sting.
"They allowed the card to be used to buy unauthorized items, such as alcohol, cigarettes, t-shirts, sunglasses and in some cases lottery tickets," said special agent Jim Madden of FDLE.
Wayne Stumbo, Tabitha Wood, Curtis Walker, Teoman Markal, Tracy Burr and Mohammad Abukhder are the local clerks who were charged with food stamp fraud.
The first three work at Big Daddy's Quick E Drive By in Tampa, which is owned by Walker. Markal works at Checkers Mini Mart in Port Richey, Burr is a clerk at Hawkins and Bell's Grocery in Tampa, while Abukhder works at MZ Food Store in Tampa.
The six allegedly let people charge almost half a million dollars in illegal items on their EBT cards. They also gave out about $10,000 in cash for other cards, and while that may not seem like much, Madsen adds, "Keep in mind that was a few visits over a few weeks.
Madden says across Florida about $3.5 million worth of taxpayer money was laundered with the scam, and that the proof is in their video.
"No we ain't guilty, what you talking about man?" said one of the men who said they own Hawkins and Bells. They weren't among those charged.
At MZ and Big Daddy's, employees also declined to comment about the arrests.
Walker, who owns Big Daddy's, was found dead behind his store hours after he got of jail. Detectives don't believe foul play is involved.
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