JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The Department of Children and Families responded Thursday to the I-TEAM, a day after it revealed allegations that some DCF employees were given preferential treatment so that they did not have to stand in long lines to receive disaster benefits after Hurricane Irma.
The I-TEAM learned the agency fired 31 employees following an audit that triggered a fraud investigation.
DCF told News4Jax:
DCF has no "knowledge" of preferential treatment
If preferential treatment was given, it would have been a "violation of federal law"
It is early in the investigation into this food stamp fraud, which is expected to take two months
The number of employees who lied on their benefits applications changes day by day, but it would not give the I-TEAM an updated number as to how many employees are suspected of fraud beyond the 31 the agency first confirmed were fired.
DCF said it could not comment on the I-TEAM's other questions regarding how much money was fraudulently taken or a county-by-county breakdown of where the 31 DCF employees being fired for lying on their applications are from.
News4Jax asked Governor Rick Scott about the investigation and the fraud that's already been uncovered.
"It's disappointing that people take advantage of the system. These should have been dollars that would go to people who need those dollars," Scott said. "These are somebody's tax dollars. Somebody paid these tax dollars."
Two people who were working for DCF at the time told News4Jax besides fraudulent information put on applications, some DCF employees also received preferential treatment over other hurricane victims who were waiting in line to apply.
Those same sources tell the I-TEAM some DCF employees were given specific instructions to make it easier for them to receive the disaster benefits which come in the form of EBT cards.
The maximum amount of money any recipient could receive was a little more than $1,100, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.