An undercover operation targeting fraud and embezzlement has netted six arrests, with more arrests expected. The Lee County Sheriff's Office Economic Crimes Unit launched "Operation Crooked Stamp" after learning that a local businessman was committing fraud with Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards.
Michael Schnatter, DOB 2-17-60, of 13090 Seaside Harbour Drive, North Fort Myers, was arrested Monday and charged with Misappropriation of Public Assistance and Organized Scheme to Defraud. Detectives say Schnatter, the owner of Blue Ribbon Steak and Seafood, and his associates, would systematically purchase customers' EBT cards for cash money for 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," says Sheriff Mike Scott. "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 are:
Thomas Johnson, DOB 12-23-85, of 1401 SW 11th Terrace, Cape Coral.
Joshua Garcia, DOB 9-25-88, of 8135 Heck Street, North Fort Myers.
Sara Asher, DOB 2-6-83, of 1441 N. Tamiami Trail, North Fort Myers.
Willie Williams, DOB 11-17-84, of 2809 SW 44th Street, Lehigh Acres.
Detectives say four additional suspects are still at large. They are:
Michael Horne, black male, DOB 9-10-90.
Jeremy Hilburn, white male, DOB 11-27-91,
Joseph Sheets, white male, DOB 7-29-81
Ruth Carr, white female, DOB 2-15-77.
If you know the location of any of the at-large suspects, call the Lee County Sheriff's Office at 477-1000. Or, to remain anonymous and be eligible for a cash reward of up to $1,000, call Southwest Florida Crime Stoppers at 1-800-780-TIPS. Tips may also be made online at www.swflcrimestoppers.org via text to CRIMES (274637) Keyword: REWARD or through the TipSubmit app on any Smart phone.