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The Feds have shut down a major Palm Beach County $1 million sting operation for misusing public assistance programs. So far 15 people have been arrested for charges that range from food stamps theft to public housing authority fraud to money laundering.  Police are still on the look-out for seven more suspects who have been tied to the case, reports the Sun Sentinel.

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“Operation Leap Fraud” is in the third installment of an effort to stop individuals who cheat or abuse the government-sponsored public assistance programs.  Law officials at the helm of the investigation stated that this type of theft is unfortunately a widespread problem in their area, which is to the detriment of taxpayer.

State Attorney Michael McAuliffe told the Sun-Sentinel that the purpose of the public assistance fraud probes is to show there is no toleration for even minor fraud cases, and that when put together, “[it] shows a systemic and over-arching pattern of fraud and abuse.  We reject the notion that if you steal $10,000 from the government that’s too low of a threshold to hold you accountable,” McAuliffe said. “We’re investigating and we’re going to prosecute you … for the fraud you’re committing against your fellow citizens and the community.”

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The current sweep of arrests is just the tip of the iceberg and police investigators insist that there will be quite a few more installments before this type of crime sees an end.

One of the arrestees, landlord Michael A. Diaz, who has been slapped with charges of money laundering, public assistance fraud, and grand theft, actually took one of his tenant’s Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards as payment for weekly rent.  He is also accused of using $800 worth of benefits from those who were recipients of public assistance.  EBT cards are issued and used like cash to buy food at grocery stores.  In Diaz’s case, he took the card from an elderly woman and left her without a means to feed herself.

According to Assistant State Attorney Bill Minton, who is with the white collar crime unit, concentrated law efforts in battling these types of crimes will better assist communities.  “Statistically…where people go in and they concentrate on or take seriously public assistant fraud, the crime rates have gone down dramatically,” Minton told WPTV.   On a whole, the attorney warns that the conviction and disqualification rate of system thieves or abusers stands at 100 percent.

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