BOSTON - A FOX25 Investigates months-long review exposed food stamps for sale on Facebook, EBT cards used to withdraw hundreds of dollars in cash in the middle of the night and millions in suspicious welfare spending.
FOX25 has been looking into suspected abuse of EBT cards and how closely the state is tracking millions in taxpayer-funded welfare dollars since July.
In December, a viewer tipped off FOX25 about food stamps for sale on social media.
“Who on here buy stamps?,” asks a Massachusetts man in a Facebook post shared with FOX25 Investigates.
That man – known as “Brian Bunnzy Montana” on Facebook – also posts, “I don’t get them until the 10th just wanna have it set up so I’m not searching last minute.”
When others on Facebook comment to question his use of federal tax dollars, “Brian Bunnzy Montana” appears to double down – posting, “Yep thanks I’ll do what I want Its my life and your tax money thank you.”
Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen tracked down “Brian Bunnzy Montana” – real name, Brian Pike – in New Bedford to ask why he was advertising the sale of SNAP benefits – commonly referred to as food stamps – on social media.
Pike denied he was trying to sell food stamps on Facebook and refused to speak with FOX25 about the post.
Watch the video above to see his reaction when Investigative Reporter Eric Rasmussen asks why he’s selling food stamps on Facebook.
‘Not an isolated incident’
State Rep. Shaunna O’Connell, R-Taunton, told FOX25 this kind of suspected food stamps abuse is not an isolated incident.
“You've got people who are so emboldened that think they can't get caught, that only get a slap on the wrist when they do get caught and I think we really need to set some tough examples,” said O’Connell.
FOX25 Investigates combed through EBT records for the first eight months of 2016 and found:
- The state flagged more than $3 million in suspicious food stamps and welfare cash spending during that time period.
- EBT cardholders made thousands of dollars in “after-hour” purchases between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m.
- One Western Mass. EBT cardholder in the Greenfield region racked up more than $11,000 in charges – flagged as suspicious because every transaction ended in zero cents.
Some EBT card transactions during that time period seemed to defy the laws of space and time.
One EBT cardholder made a purchase in Chelsea at 9:24 a.m. on June 1 and records show that same card was used to buy something else in Attleboro – 36 miles away – less than a minute later.
Records obtained by FOX25 Investigates also show EBT cards used in Everett, Chelmsford and Roxbury were also used in the Bronx, New York less than 10 minutes later. Another EBT cardholder racked up charges in Fitchburg and Florida – purchases made just six minutes apart.
And one Massachusetts EBT card used to make a purchase in Springfield, Massachusetts somehow traveled more than 2,000 miles to West Jordan, Utah in just 5.8 minutes.
Tracking down answers from the state
FOX25 Investigates took what we found to Jeff McCue, the commissioner for the Department of Transitional Assistance, which oversees the federal food stamps program and welfare cash in Massachusetts.
Asked if he receives the same reports obtained by FOX25, McCue said, “I certainly have access to reports. I certainly have access to information available.”
Yet, records obtained by FOX25 Investigates reveal McCue appeared to receive no written briefings on EBT fraud trends over a one month period in October.
Only six emails to McCue during that time period even mentioned “EBT.”
In fact, FOX25 Investigates had to pay the state $350 to get those emails and monthly reports on suspected welfare fraud that the agency supposedly already generates.
When asked why he isn’t receiving the reports, McCue said, “Certainly, I personally attend meetings every two weeks on our Program Integrity updates and I receive information relative to that.”
Call for vigilance
O’Connell said she wants to see more done to police potential EBT abuse.
“We've got to be vigilant about checking these reports every single month and following up and really, removing these folks from the welfare rolls if they do not belong on welfare,” said O’Connell.
FOX25 and at least one concerned citizen shared Pike’s Facebook post with the Attorney General’s Office and DTA. McCue said the agency is aware of the complaint.
Taxpayers outside a local grocery store told FOX25 they were concerned that someone was offering to sell food stamps on social media.
“My kids are working like five jobs between the two of them just to make ends meet, to let their kids go to college, so to see this is terrible,” said Lucy Budgell of Needham.
In a statement, DTA said it could not comment on individual cases of suspected welfare abuse due to “privacy restrictions.”
The agency also said it entered into a partnership with state and federal law enforcement to “identify and eliminate” what it calls SNAP – or food stamps – trafficking.
DTA officials told FOX25 Investigates it recovered $1.8 million in fraudulent EBT card charges last fiscal year.
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