10 Arrested in Food Stamp Fraud Case

Special agents with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Miami-Dade police and Broward Sheriff’s deputies have arrested two brothers and eight food stamp recipients on charges of defrauding the state out of more than $77,000 through electronic food stamp benefits (EBT) cards.

Jose J. Arias, Jr., 45, of Branford, Florida, the former owner of Best Way Meats & Fish in Miami, was arrested by FDLE special agents and charged with one count of grand theft.

His brother, Victor M. Arias, 44, of Hialeah, who used to work at the market, also was charged with one count of grand theft.

The investigation began in 2005 after federal officials with the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) division alerted financial crimes investigators with FDLE’s Public Assistance Fraud unit of irregularities in food stamp activity at the small specialty store, which is located in a strip shopping center. The Public Assistance Fraud unit investigates misuse in the state’s welfare system, which includes food stamp trafficking investigations.

Their review found numerous EBT transactions that seemed questionable due to the size of the store, the number of cash registers and the dollar amount of food stamps being redeemed during the transactions.

Financial crimes investigators alleged that the men and food stamp recipients conducted fraudulent transactions by falsifying EBT transactions to reflect that food items had been purchased, when in many cases, the recipients primarily were receiving cash for their food stamp benefits. Authorities believe that both Arias brothers were charging the recipients’ food stamp accounts as much as 50 percent more than the amount of cash they gave back to the recipients.

According to investigators, the recipients allegedly used their food stamp benefits to get cash an average of 20 to 35 times between 2003 and 2004. The suspicious transactions ranged from a total of $2,200 to $3,200 per recipient.

The recipients who were charged with one count each of grand theft are:

Cecelia Rosemary Diaz, 43, of Miramar

Melvina Williams, 42, of Miami

Mandella Oliver, 41, of Miami

Christine C. Thomas, 28, of Hollywood

Valerie Elaine Rutherford, 44, of Miami

Rhodessa Jacquill Rolle, 27, of Miami

Deborah M. Blount, 48, of Miami

Daliah Andrene Wignall, 48, of Miami

Two additional recipients are being sought for arrest. The investigation is continuing. Anyone with information on this case is asked to call Financial Crimes Investigator Marilyn Baker at (786) 336-1000.

For more information, contact:

Paige Patterson-Hughes
Public Information Officer
FDLE - Miami
(954) 958-5400