I-Team Investigation

A closer look at why store owners can cheat the Wisconsin Foodshare system

CREATED Nov 20, 2012

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MILWAUKEE - A food stamp card is like a debit card, only instead of coming out of the person's bank account, It's coming out of tax dollars. In the past 15 years, there's only been four arrests for food stamp fraud in Milwaukee. That's not because the system is fraud free.

The I-Team uncovered numerous stores -- approved by the USDA -- not following the rules. Not having enough healthy food to legally be taking your money.

Debra Vanderboom is a retired fraud investigator. She says more enforcement of Foodshare fraud is needed. "It's a crime, just like theft burglary, robbery."

So why aren't stores getting in trouble? Check out Sparkle Foods. According to an application for a search warrant, the corner store on Milwaukee's north side cashed in $2.2 million of your money in one year.

The court document says, 'An undercover agent went inside Sparkle Foods and traded welfare checks for cash seven times, and yet there have been no arrests.' The Inspector General's office will not say if the invesitagion is ongoing.

Vanderboom is not surprised. She says, "You find a vendor that is committing fraud and you shut them down and take away their authorization, but nothing hapens to them."

Equipped with our hidden cam, the I-Team went inside Sparkle Foods. They're still open, but for now, without access to your money.

An I-Team Producer asked the clerk, "When's the Quest machine going to be back?" The Sparkle Foods employee responded, "Soon. Soon."

But for Common Council President Willie Hines, if a store has commited Foodshare fraud, soon is still too soon.

"We must penalize those business operators very severely when they break the law because the program is necessary. We need the program," Hines explains.

Right now, if a store gets busted for fraud, the USDA can either take their vendor authorization away or make the store pay back what it stole, but not both.