MANATEE COUNTY, Fla.- Operation Meal Ticket was a sweeping success. In an undercover effort that began in January, the Bradenton Police Department, the Florida Department of Financial Services, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security collaborated to arrest dozens of people misusing welfare debit cards. According to Manatee County Sheriff Brad Steube, the cards are most often traded for drugs, or sold for cash and the money used to buy drugs.
Those arrested face 78 charges that include Social Welfare Fraud, third degree felony, and numerous drug charges. The investigation is not complete. Steuebe states that further arrests and search warrants are forthcoming in the next few days.
An undercover detective was also used in the investigation. He was able to sell welfare debit cards to the owners and employees of several grocery and convenience stores. The owners and employees would then use the cards to buy food to stock their own stores and keep the profit.