WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - More than 20 people are being charged for defrauding the government through public assistance programs like food stamps and public housing assistance.
"Operation Leap Fraud" is the third phase of an effort to thwart the misuse of taxpayer funded programs. This time, 15 people were arrested for charges ranging from mortgage fraud to money laundering.
One of the people arrested, Michael A. Diaz of Lake Worth, is being charged with one count of money laundering, one count of public assistance fraud and one count of grand theft.
Investigators said Diaz, a landlord, took one of his tenant's Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) Food Stamp cards in exchange for weekly rent. Diaz utilized more than $800 worth of other people's public assistance funds, according to investigators.
Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Palm Beach County State Attorney Michael McAuliffe said these most recent arrests are just a part of their office's bigger focus on the problem of public assistance fraud.
Assistant State Attorney Bill Minton said buckling down on these types of crimes will only benefit local communities.
"Statistically...where people go in and they concentrate on or take seriously public assistant fraud, the crime rates have gone down dramatically," Minton said. Minton is with the white collar crime unit of the state attorney's office.
The sheriff's office is still looking for seven more people associated with these particular crimes. At this time they are not releasing the names of those individuals.
Minton said $3 million in taxpayer money has been recovered and the state attorney's office has a 100 percent success rate when it comes to convicting or disqualifying those involved in public assistance fraud.