2 Investigators: Benefits Fraud Runs Rampant

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Link cards are supposed to help families across the country that are out of work or struggling financially to put food on the table.

It’s the modern-day version of food stamp, and it’s all funded by taxpayers. But local convenience store operators are getting their hands on the cards and profiting without selling any food, 2 Investigator Dave Savini reports.

Nationwide, the problem is so bad, it is estimated there is $330 million in Link Card fraud each year.

Some local merchants are facing criminal charges following a sting by Cook County Sheriff’s police.

During one undercover sting, a store clerk was caught paying cash for a Link Card. The grocer makes a big profit by giving out less cash than the value of the card. It’s an illegal practice because Link Cards only can be used to buy food and household items.

In Illinois alone, $251 million in Link Card food assistance is given to recipients each month. The big bucks are badly abused, says Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart.

“I could do Link Card cases every minute of the day, and use every person that works for me, and I’m still not going to be able to get out in front of this thing,” he says.

The investigation broadened to include stolen goods. Savini was with Sheriff’s police during an undercover operation in which a truckload of baby food — 7,500 cans of formula – was sold after being reported as stolen. 

The grocers were trying to buy the formula for $3 a can, to resell it for about $17 a can. 

Police Cmdr. Mike Anton says grocery store operators were being investigated for using fraudulent Link money to fund the formula buy and similar types of crimes.

Anton says the raid also uncovered abuse of Women, Infants and Children (WIC) vouchers. These government-issued vouchers are supposed to be used to buy specific items like baby food. 

However, police say store workers are giving out cash for a cut of the voucher money.

Dart says little is being done to expose the massive fraud because there are only a handful of federal investigators in the Midwest.

“If the bigger federal government is not going to get their act together, I’m not going to continue to waste my resources chasing these cases down,” said Dart.  “I have so many other cases to be working on, whether its gang-related cases, narcotics cases, homicides. You name it, we’re really busy.”

In all, 13 different people were arrested from six different convenient stores in Chicago, Maywood and Bellwood. Charges range from theft of government property to state benefits fraud to public aid wire fraud.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has not disclosed how many Link fraud investigators the agency has. 

Police say it’s not just the store owners and clerks stealing tax dollars. Link Card recipients in need of quick cash will often wait outside grocery stores and offer to sell their cards for about half their worth to random people.

More from Dave Savini
  • Booboolicious

    The Link Card is a racket? I ow-rage!

  • jim alex

    thats right if its free govt money then who cares its free! work on other things and let them rip off the public (us) why not get volunteers to do it for the country and on a commission basis we can only save billions after all! then Obamma can give it away to supporters!

    • Steven

      First of all, exhale before writing so that you can present your case coherently. Your run on sentence makes no sense. Second, comment on the article, not some other matter. This will make for a much better comment – one that at least has some semblance of intelligence.

  • CZA

    Why don’t you report on what percentage of total program funding the fraud estimates equal, instead of just throwing out what sounds like a large number to rile people up. And why don’t you use the active voice to express who is making the estimate, rather than masking that information behind the passive “it is estimated.”

    We should definitely police fraud, but we also don’t need to blow it out of proportion so the demagogues of the world can delegitimize what’s left of our social safety net.

  • Ed

    As in the case of illegals in this country. I thought the only persons that had jurisdiction was the federal government and that local, county and state should be required. to stay out. Isnt that the county’s position on illegals. I believe that this fraud is therefore intended by the federal government or at least the executive branch. I am not surprised that Dart would be issuing a statement in favour of non prosecution of this fraud. Waiting for his call for more taxes to support his inactions.

  • ali baba

    thats why immigrants come to our country .to rip us off you idiots.STOP IMMIGRATION NOW. youre going to say how do you knnow? the naswer is becuase I do knnow for a fact.why didint the story expose the nationalities of these con artists. ????

    • zuzu


    • Steven

      Please re-read the article. Nowhere is “immigrant” mentioned. Don’t draw conclusions without facts.

  • Jim

    Just get rid of the program!! For every 1 person that needs it you probably have 2 or 3 that are abusing it! People with Link cards shop and get better food than my wife and I, which have to pay for our own food!

  • Chivi

    These same store owners are selling single cigarettes for .50 to .75 cents a piece. It’s about time…

    • Steven

      No, it’s about addiction, and making a profit from it.

  • zuzu

    they need to start doing drug tests on the recipients of these link cards! crackheads sell everything!!!!

  • Dock Bros.

    What a crock

  • Dock Bros.

    I would like to add if they abuse the link cards they get tazed .

  • Liz

    Some people really need the help, and are trying to get off the link by working and earning a legit money. Not every one on the link are illegals you have asians white black hispanic. All different people. I think its good finding the fraudulent people but people on here dont need to be so cruel with there words. I hope God gives you peace in your hearts and understanding of others. GOD BLESS YOU ALL

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