Manatee duo offers state ideas to stifle welfare fraud

jdeleon@bradenton.comMay 22, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Sheriff's Office presented suggestions for stifling the growing welfare fraud problem to state officials Tuesday afternoon.

Sgt. Jason Powell and Detective Marty Harrington presented results from Operation Meal Ticket I and II at the quarterly meeting of the Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force in Tallahassee.

"I got a lot of good feedback," Powell said. "We shared the interests in passing some legislation."

The duo, with support from Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, said laws needed to be tightened to ensure a person using an Electronic Benefits Transfer card is the individual actually granted the benefits.

The Medicaid and Public Assistance Fraud Strike Force was created in the 2010 legislative session to prevent, detect and prosecute Medicaid and public assistance fraud.

Jeff Atwater, state chief financial officer, is Florida chairman of the 11-member force and Attorney General Pam Bondi is vice chairwoman.

"CFO Atwater seemed to agree with what we had to say," Powell said. "I think they are going to get something done."

Powell said Atwater and Steube will work closely together on crafting welfare fraud legislation. Steube was unable to attend Monday because of a weekly management and crime meeting.

Since the 41 arrests made April 1 by the Manatee County Sheriff's Office as part of Operation Meal Ticket II, Steube has been vocal about the need to address the high volume of welfare fraud in Florida.

"By having our guys up there making a presentation, we hope it will evoke some conversation by those in charge of the funds of the EBT cards in the state of Florida," Steube said.

The presentation included

undercover operation results in addition to offering solutions to the problem.

One suggestion is EBT cards should all have a picture ID.

Steube said identification verification should be required.

"They could put something in the EBT card that prompts the retailer to check for ID," Steube said. "All we are suggesting is that there should be a very simple way for retailers, for the owners of the EBT, to identify themselves."

No law requires retailers to verify the identity of the individual named on an EBT card. Cardholders simply swipe it like a debit card and enter a personal information number.

"We believe that by doing that it is not going to go away but it will be significantly reduced," Steube said.

The MSO began the EBT investigation in April 2012 with the Florida Department of Financial Services.

Jessica De Leon, law enforcement reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7049. You can follow her on Twitter @JDeLeon1012.

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