An undercover operation targeting fraud and embezzlement has netted six arrests, with more arrests expected.
The Lee County Sheriff's Office recently launched "Operation Crooked Stamp" after learning that a local businessman was committing fraud with Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT cards.
Michael Schnatter, 53, of 13090 Seaside Harbour Drive, North Fort Myers, was arrested Monday and charged with misappropriation of public assistance funds and organized scheme to defraud.
Detectives said Schnatter, owner of Blue Ribbon Steak and Seafood, and his associates would systematically purchase customers' EBT cards - paying cash at half the value of the benefits on the card.
Schnatter would then fraudulently process the transaction as a food sale from his company and wait for reimbursement from the government.
The investigation revealed that Schnatter was pocketing up to $7,000 a day in fraudulent transactions.
He had a mobile terminal that allowed him to read the balance on EBT cards and facilitate the fraudulent transactions.
"Schnatter was essentially a rolling ATM," Sheriff Mike Scott said. "While he was under surveillance, we saw him running transactions in his truck, in the gym, everywhere."
Today, detectives arrested five people who sold their cards illegally to Schnatter for cash. Arrested and charged with misappropriating public assistance funds were:
- Thomas Johnson, 27, of 1401 S.W. 11th Terrace, Cape Coral
- Joshua Garcia, 24, of 8135 Heck St., North Fort Myers
- Sara Asher, 30, of 1441 N. Tamaki Trail, North Fort Myers
- Willie Williams, 28, of 2809 S.W. 44th St., Lehigh Acres.
Detectives said four additional suspects are still at large. They are:
- Michael Horne, 23
- Jeremy Kilburn, 21
- Joseph Sheets, 32
- Ruth Carr, 36
If you know the location of any of the at-large suspects, call the Lee County Sheriff's Office at 477-1000.
To remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000, call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at (800) 780-TIPS.
Tips may also be made online: www.swflcrimestoppers.org via text to CRIMES (274637) Keyword: REWARD or through the Tip Submit app on any Smart phone.