Florida Business Owner Found Guilty of Millions in Food Stamp Fraud

An employee at a money changer counts USD 100 bills in Manila on October 25, 2012. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS
AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS

A Florida business owner was found guilty of conducting a multi-million-dollar food stamp fraud scheme in which he exchanged bribes and other favors with daycare centers to secure catering contracts.

Carlos Montoya, 47, was found guilty by a Miami federal jury Friday of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and one count of bribery for running a scheme at his catering business where he exchanged favors and increased the prices of the meals he provided to his daycare center clients, the Miami Herald reported.

Montoya’s business partner, Sandra Ruballo, 47, represented 200 daycare centers that received government money for food assistance programs meant for low-income children while Montoya’s catering company supplied the meals for the daycare centers.

Ruballo, 47, pleaded guilty this year to wire fraud conspiracy and other charges before the start of Montoya’s trial. She will make her next appearance in court on June 5.

Prosecutors say that Montoya forked over $680,000 worth of kickbacks and an extra $160,000 in bribes to do business with Ruballo over a period of six years. In exchange for the bribes, Ruballo rigged the government-subsidized food contracts and catering bids.

Montoya’s company, Montoya’s Healthy Children Catering, conducted $14 million in business transactions with Ruballo’s company, Highland Food Resources, between 2012 and 2017.

Court records show that Ruballo’s business was in charge of representing 200 daycare centers and in South Florida, and she inked a deal where she could give the meals through the government’s Child Care Food Program on a sliding-scale fee.

Ruballo allegedly manipulated the government reimbursements for kids’ meals “by adding food stamp numbers, falsifying signatures and modifying reported family income levels, in order to qualify for more free and reduced meals as part of the [program],” a criminal complaint stated.

The government, in turn, paid her company more in reimbursements while she allegedly pocketed additional money through her work with the daycare centers.

Florida law enforcement officials have dealt with their fair share of food stamp fraud cases. Officials busted nearly 200 people last March on food stamp fraud charges while they carried out an undercover law enforcement investigation.

Investigators in charge of the sting said they discovered up to 390 fraudulent transactions over a period of six months.

The amount of food stamp fraud trafficked in this country has amounted to billions of dollars.

A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report from 2019 found that criminals were responsible for trafficking at least $1 billion in food stamp benefits.

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