WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (CBS12) — A jury this week found a Palm Beach County man guilty of stealing people’s identities to obtain food stamp cards, then pocketing the cash.
The food stamp program, now called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), is designed to provide fresh produce and meat to needy families.
But jurors determined Michelson Janvier, of Lake Worth, ripped off the food stamp system— essentially stealing from taxpayers and those in need.
Janvier’s arrest in 2016 came after deputies with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, along with state and federal agents, raided the Opa Locka Hialeah Flea Market in Miami-Dade County.
Federal prosecutors called it a take-down of a multi-million dollar food stamp trafficking scheme— the largest bust of its kind at the time.
“Trafficking is a very wasteful practice, and a very wasteful offense,” said Jack Heacock, who heads the Division of Public Assistance Fraud of the state’s Chief Financial Officer. “We have limited resources in the State of Florida to attack this. So we have to have every possible means of going after this problem.”
The Sheriff’s Office said Janvier’s theft totaled more than $180,00 and the state Attorney General’s Office said Janvier used the personal information of at least 85 local people, with possibly as many as 500 identity theft victims.
CBS12 News obtained court records showing Janvier used the same IP address to apply for his own food stamp card, or EBT Card, as well as numerous cards agents identified as suspicious within a short time frame.
Agents said they observed Janvier at the Opa Locka Hialeah Flea Market using EBT cards, but leaving with no fruits or vegetables, only what appeared to be cash.
Ultimately, federal agents charged 22 vendors, most from the Flea Market, with taking $13 million in payments for transactions where they provided no food.
How common is food stamp fraud?
Checking the dockets at the Palm Beach County Courthouse, CBS12 News regularly comes across cases of public assistance fraud.
Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Teri Barbera said her agency recognizes public assistance fraud as a big problem and has a special unit to address the crime.
Janvier faces a mandatory minimum of 13 years in prison, possibly up to 85 years, when he’s sentenced in November.