Food stamp fraud on the rise in Tampa Bay costing tax payers millions

State agents raid local grocer

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY - One in every six Floridians receives food stamps also known as EBT cards to feed their families.

In Tampa Bay alone, EBT spending added up to $2.5 billion tax payer dollars between 2013 and 2015.

The I-Team rode along with with state agents this week and uncovered the food stamp fraud taking place here and across the state.

We found food stamps for sale and the money spent on anything but groceries.

State agents with the Division of Insurance Fraud spent seven months conducting surveillance on the popular Food Town Meat Market on Busch Blvd.

Fraud detectives raided the store then arrested two of the three brothers who own the market.

Investigators tell us they caught both Omar Ghanem and Baelal Ghanem paying cash for cards from willing customers. At the time of his arrest, police found over $1600 in Omar's pocket.

The state says the meat market cashed in $200,000 in food stamps a month, about the same as an average size Publix.

Carrie Clark told me she uses her food stamps to do her monthly grocery shopping here. The bust came as a surprise.

The USDA estimates 11 thousand stores just like this one take food stamps. These smaller markets make up 80 percent of food stamp fraud. The good news, this past session lawmakers gave the green light to hire five more fraud investigators to fight this crime.

The Ghanem brothers face three felony fraud charges each.

Both were taken to the Hillsborough County Jail.

The third suspect, a customer, remains at large.

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