WKYT Investigates: Food stamps ending up in wrong hands

LEXINGTON, Ky. (WKYT) - For David and Shelley Campbell, times are tough.

"It's terrible to have to to live like this," David Campbell said. "It's embarrassing to have to draw food stamps. I've never had to live like this. I've always worked."

Campbell was a plumber for 20 years. Back problems stopped him from working and making money.

His wife is trying to pick up the slack by working three jobs. But they are still coming up short each month. "I've never had such hardship before," Shelley said.

The Campbells are one of thousands in Kentucky who get monthly money from food stamps or SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

But it's growing more popular to take advantage of the federally funded program.

Mohammad Ryyal and his brother were arrested just last month after Lexington police say they were buying Electronic Benefit Cards for half their worth, then keeping the cards to purchase items for their convenience stores.

It was a similar story came earlier this year when Lexington police arrested the owner of the Barter House on Loudon Avenue.

So WKYT pulled records from the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to see how many fraud cases they've handled just in the past year. The settlement numbers in twelve months time came out to more than four million dollars in food stamp fraud cases.

WKYT reached out to the cabinet to explain the numbers. A spokesperson for the cabinet says, "Though not an overwhelming problem here, fraud is taken very seriously. Of the claims we're currently collecting, 25 percent were agency caused (not fraud), 50 percent were inadvertent household errors (not fraud), and 25 percent were a mix of intentional program violations or suspected program violations."

"Every dollar that is spent on these programs is a critical dollar," said Robert Benvenuti who is a current lexington lawmaker and former inspector general for the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. He policed food stamp fraud from 2004 to 2007.

"It's very important to police for waste, fraud and abuse. But it's also very difficult and there are systemic issues that certainly go well beyond the last year," Benvenuti said.

Benvenuti pointed to the 50 percent inadvertent household errors quoted by the cabinet. He says typically that would mean there were errors made by the people applying for the benefits -- whether an honest mistake or intentional.

"It often times becomes difficult to distinguish between what an inadvertent error and what's intentional misconduct in defrauding the program." He says that leaves a large number of 50 percent to cover multiple meanings.

"The most efficient type of policing is to properly manage the program where few dollars are getting out inappropriately because once those dollars get out, it becomes very difficult to chase those dollars and bring them back to the taxpayer," Benvenuti said.

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