At least 9 more arrested in connection with gambling, EBT fraud case
September 9, 2016
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Authorities have made another nine arrests in connection with a county-wide fraud investigation.
Debralyn Bostick, Cheryl Garner, Latoya Henderson, Candice Jackson, Willis James, Tyease Jefferson, Laqreshia Kelly, Niquita Payne, and Tiffany Roberts have all been arrested after warrants related to food stamp forgery or public assistance fraud were issued for them earlier this week.
Investigators have connected the suspects with an EBT fraud ring being run out of several local convenience stores.
Over 100 warrants were issued in connection with the case, in which EBT purchases were being traded for cash and other goods, authorities say.
Several arrests have also been made in connection with illegal gambling machines being operated at nearly half a dozen store in the area.
The eight new arrests bring the new total to 31 arrests made in connection with the case. Officials expect several more arrests to be made in the near future.
September 8, 2016
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- Nearly two dozen people are now behind bars as Leon County rounds up suspects in a massive gambling and fraud bust. Investigators say three businesses in Leon and Wakulla counties had illegal slot machines and were committing food stamp fraud.
That includes the One Stop College Market on West Tennessee St. These come on top of four arrests that were made on Wednesday, but illegal gambling isn't the only issue in this case.
Sheriff's deputies say the suspects were also buying customer's EBT food stamp cards and giving them cash in return. The Leon County Sheriff's office says these businesses are abusing a system designed to help people.
The Sheriff's Office has now arrested 23 individuals in connection with this case, and it has more than 100 other warrants issued as well. The Division of Public Assistance Fraud says the issue regarding the EBT cards was an unusual arrangement and this type of misuse of EBT cards is not common.
"For people to take advantage of this and misuse those funds when we have people that are hungry and homeless and need a place to stay and need a meal to eat, and this is how they facilitate that, this is how the state transmits that to the less fortunate folks in our community," says Sheriff Mike Wood of Leon County Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Wood says this is not a victimless crime and this nine month investigation is ongoing. They expect more arrests to follow in the next few weeks.
The other business owners in this particular shopping say they were shocked to learn of the arrests. They say they saw constant traffic coming in and out of that convenience store, but they never suspected any illegal gambling or fraud happening there.
One business owner said he's done business with one of the suspects involved, and he was surprised to learn about the arrests and what was going on right by his business. He hopes those responsible will be dealt with appropriately.
"It’s a shame, It’s too bad that people were taken advantage of and the EBT system was misused. It’s going to end up hurting the people that really need the help," says owner of Eyecatcher Signs Graphics, John Daley.
September 8, 2016
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) -- At least 19 more suspects tied to a local illegal gambling and fraud ring have been arrested, making a total of 23, and authorities say many more arrests are on the way.
According to the Leon County jail, Wiley Blankenship, Timothy Byrd, Derwin, Anthony Chapman, Derwin Collins, Donnie Copeland, Blessing Ekhosuehi, Christian Foshee, David Foshee, Naomi Fudge, Ketra Hill, Alphonso Jefferson, Terrance Johnson, Ateref Kasa, Shameka Myles, Aster Negatu, Alexu Perry, Darryl Powell, Ivory Sheffield, and Latarshela Sherman were all arrested on charges relating to the investigation.
All of the suspects were arrested on in connection with illegal gambling charges or public assistance fraud.
Authorities say that several convenience stores and gas stations were operating illegal gambling machines and involved in a fraud scheme in which others would buy items for the store on their EBT cards and trade those items for cash or other goods.
According to authorities, machines were found at Wondu Marathon on Orange Avenue, Euro Fashions Boutique on West Tennessee Street, the One Stop College Market on West Tennessee Street, the Wayside General Store on Blountstown Highway, and the Pretty Game Boutique on Crawfordville Road.
Four others were arrested Wednesday in connection with the operation.
Warrants have been issued for over 100 suspects believed to have been involved in the ring.
September 7, 2016
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) – At least four people have been arrested on several charges stemming from an illegal gambling operation at multiple locations in Leon County.
According to Authorities, Wondwossen Gizaw-Tessema, Firehiwot Gebre, Christabel Ekhosuehi, and Eyerusalem Hiluf have been arrested on charges related to illegal gambling, racketeering, forgery and fraud.
A multi-agency investigation alleges that several businesses were linked to the owner of the Wondu Marathon on Orange Avenue, Gizaw-Tessema, and were operating illegal gambling activities.
Authorities say gambling machines were also found at Euro Fashions Boutique on West Tennessee Street, the One Stop College Market on West Tennessee Street, the Wayside General Store on Blountstown Highway, and the Pretty Game Boutique on Crawfordville Road.
A State Attorney's Office investigation found slot machines at D&B Family Amusement Game Center in Wakulla County, which led them to Gator Tail Amusement, LLC., who investigators say provided machines to other locations in the area.
Investigators also say that the Wondu Marathon and its employees had customers who used EBT and wanted cash buy items at other stores and return the items to the Wondu Marathon for 50% of what they spent on their EBT card, in cash.
Gizaw-Tessema is charged with 22 counts of possession of a slot machine, 34 counts of forgery, six counts of fraud, 3 counts of establishing a gambling place, three counts of operating a lottery, one count of racketeering, one count of swindling to obtain property, one count of money laundering, and one count of grand theft.
Gebre is charged with 13 counts of public assistance fraud, six counts of owning /storing a slot machine, one count of racketeering, one count of organized scheme to defraud, one count of money laundering, one count of operating a lottery, one count of grand theft, one count of establishing a gambling place.
Hiluf is charged with 16 counts of possession of a slot machine, 18 counts of forgery, nine counts of public assistance fraud, two counts of establishing a gambling place, two counts of operating a lottery, one count of racketeering, one count swindling to obtain property, one count of money laundering, and one count of grand theft.
Ekhosuehi is charged with six counts of possessing a slot machine, one count of operating a lottery and one count of establishing a gambling place.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office, Tallahassee Police Department, Wakulla County Sheriff’s Office, State Attorney’s Office and Florida Department of Law Enforcement all participated in the extensive investigation.
LCSO says throughout the investigation, detectives have also seized large sums of money and several vehicles.
Detectives and agents began making arrests yesterday and officials say more arrests are forthcoming. According to LCSO, there are 132 defendants in this case in total.
In addition to the four arrested, the Leon County Sheriff's Office has named the following as defendants in the case: