4 New Yorkers Make Millions Off Food Stamps

A record 45.8 million Americans were on food stamps last May, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. That's almost 15 percent of the U.S. population. New York has one of the highest proportions of food stamp users in the country, but turns out that thousands of those listed on the rolls didn't actually exist.

On Wednesday, Vanee Sykes pled guilty to scamming the government out of $8 million in food stamps. Over four years, the 44-year-old invented thousands of phantom individuals, all scraping the poverty line, collected their EBT cards, and sold them for cash.

Skyes held out longer than her co-conspirators. Tori Jackson and Louis Johnson, who are city welfare workers like Sykes, already had plead guilty, along with another accomplice, Alice Bradford.

As an employee for the Human Resources Administration, Sykes was responsible for determining which food stamp applicants were eligible for benefits, making the scheme an even more brazen violation of public trust.

The case is one example of the food stamp abuse that exists across the country. As reported in The Wall Street Journal, Wisconsin food stamp recipients "routinely sell their benefit cards on Facebook," and Washington state food stamp beneficiaries cashed out the cards on Craigslist and street corners, causing the chief of the state's food-stamp program to resign in April.

Food stamp fraud is a problem, but the attention given to these incidents can have the effect of exaggerating the extent of the abuse, and failing to put it in perspective. For example, white collar crime costs Americans between $300 billion and $600 billion a year, according to the National White Collar Crime Center. Those figures are significantly more than the $73 billion that the government spends each year to help almost one in seven Americans feed themselves.

Next: The Old Fix 'n' Steal: Is Your Repairman Ripping You Off?



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mamas1224

It's just proof that these programs need to be overhauled because they're not helping the people they are supposed to help, and are doing too little to help those who need it. I was laid off in '10. I went from making over 55k/year to just over 30k in unemployment. And I owe student loans, credit cards, the IRS, a car note, NJ car ins, health ins costs, along with the astronomical cost of living. So I applied for food stamps two months ago, something I never thought I would ever have to do. I was told we're not eligible. I would've laughed if it wasn't so damn painful. We can't afford food. We can't afford gas. We're behind on our rent, utility bills... and we're not eligible? Then who the hell is?

August 16 2011 at 6:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to mamas1224's comment
sisterjoey

You make more money on unemployment than I make WITH A JOB!

August 20 2011 at 10:52 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to sisterjoey's comment
Jonnie Stone

Seriously. 30K in unemployment? That is 2500 a month roughly. My family of 6 is living off of 17 ,000 a year, at most.

August 31 2011 at 10:25 AM Report abuse rate up rate down
amberteka

What disturbs me is what they buy. Here we are being told by the "elites" that it costs more to eat healty than to eat junk and weigh 289 pounds. So..Tuesday, behind a food stamper, with the buggy piled high. All of the junk food, and there was plenty of it, were all Brand Names. Lay's Chips,not the store brand. Those things cost $4.99. Then bags of cheese chips, Dorritos, and on and on..all brand names. Then the packaged lunches..with a tiny bit of ham, tiny bit of cheese, huge price. Lots of frozen dinners. Fresh Produce, which is healty and cheap now..consisted of tomatoes and some bags of salad. Orange Juice, cartons and cartons...all loaded with sugar. Ice Cream, cookies..all name brand and pricey to boot. The bill came to over $ 200 dollars and I know because the woman had clipped coupons and was trying to stretch her dollar. She looked poor. She was thin. Her child was thin, but her clothes were very clean. I did not begrude her the food, because for whatever reason, I think she needed it. But..for that $200 dollars, I would have had that buggy loaded down with fresh peaches, cheap now, fresh summer oranges, cheap now, vidalea onions, snap beans, squash, all cheap now. Dried beans, chicken thighs..which are cheap, cheap and can be boiled and then picked to make pot pies and such.....Poor People spend MORE money on Junk..than they do on healthy. Perhaps..the Govt. should stop letting food stamps pay for JUNK. Ir at least processed junk. I felt sorry for her. I was mad at her a little. I didn't want that little girl to be hungry. She was white. She and her mother....reminded me of a beaten dog. I don't like the abuse..I hate it. But..I don't want that skinny little kid...in her old clothes, with a little belt, unhemmed but very clean, tied around her skinny little waist..to be hungry. Ever. Nor her thin as a waif broken down looking Mother. They moved my heart.

August 12 2011 at 11:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to amberteka's comment
Jonnie Stone

My family eats healthy on the food stamp program, so idk what the hades people are doing to make it so expensive. I can buy one package of cookies (store brand) and make it last two weeks for a treat. Grapes, oranges, celery, apples. I give those to my kids. Fresh 1% milk, no sugar added juice. You can buy white meat chicken cheaply. Instead of wasting money on those lunchables deals you can buy a package of healthy low-sodium cold cut turkey, a package of wheat crackers, and some healthy cheese (swiss). For less than $10 I can easily give my children lunch for 2 days. Water! Don't pour your money into carbonated sugar water! Drink more freaking water. I get $950 to feed my family of 6 for the month, and we eat very healthy, so that "a family on stamps can't eat healthy" bull is a lie. People equate "healthy" with "organic", and guess what? Most of my fruits and veggies ARE organic. So seriously, there is no excuse for Doritos mom other than poor lifestyle choices. There is nothing wrong with the occasional treat, so banning "junk food" on EBT is uncalled for. But so is filling the cart with "junk food", then whining that you don't have money for "real food"

August 31 2011 at 10:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Gina

It is definitely a big joke. Many times I have been in a grocery store waiting in line behind a very well dressed lady, coach purse, well manicured nails & not to forget to mention a very well stocked grocery cart with premium meats, high priced name brand items & at checkout time brings out her matching coach wallet & her LONE STAR CARD. My cart contains store brand items just enough to last my family a week & ads to match price sale items!!! Of course the lady before me took enough for her family & for the cookout parties she will be having every weekend. And finally I'm walking out to my car and she is loading her groceries in her brand new SUV. And their usual story that the father of the kids left them & she cant work cause she needs to stay home & care for her kids. And funny that they say the father of the kids left them but then they have another child & its the same dad!!! Then they say the father of the kids is not helping them with anything and that they don't know where he is. Liars, Liars, Liars!!!! Just go at night, you'll find him! Asleep in the same bed!!! Think why they get married and dont change their name. And every big item they buy, it's under their families name or the father of the children that they fail to mention on the childrens birth certificate. And how fortunate they are to be able to wake up every morning and make a warm breakfast for their kids, while my children eat at school since I work a full time job and I have to be there by 6:30 a.m. By the way, my children ride the bus, because I don't have the pleasure of driving my children to school because I am already at work. And of course, she gets in her new SUV and drives her children to school and it would be nice to be able to stay and volunteer in the classroom, but no she decides to go shopping instead. And where are we, working and she is shopping with our money!!!! And of course, her children stay after school, because they are a low income family and they qualify for the after school program and we don't qualify because we are middle class and we make too much money. And to top it off her children get home to a nice warm meal and my hungry children are waiting for me cause I'm either still stuck at work, stuck in traffic or parked on the side of the freeway cause my car broke down. This program was to be used by americans who needed assistance for a short period. In an instance of lossing their job or unable to work cause of a minor injury. Just to get us through a couple of months, not for 20 years. These people are very much capable of working just like we are!!!!! This problem is in the schools as well. Low income families get all the help while our american children dont. We are supposed to be helping our children get ahead. Become SOMEBODY in this world. What are we teaching our kids. To have children as teens and out of wed so they could get assistance. Help the young adults waiting to have children and wanting to continue their education!!!!

August 12 2011 at 10:34 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
judith

my GOD, you wonder why the government is broke????

August 12 2011 at 9:25 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Nanny Pam

No party here, either!!!! Im disabled and have a 31 year old daughter that has been totally disabled since birth. We both recieve Medicade and get an SSI check. I get little in food stamps because of our checks. We havent had an increase in our checks in 2 years, but the price of food has continued to rise. I cant even buy enough food to invite family over for Holidays. Ive been told by other people getting food stamps that I should lie or play the system to get more stamp, but Im not that type of person. I dont believe that being dishonest ever gets you anywhere. Just really sad that people that have good jobs can get away with stealing food stamps for cash when there are so many Americans out here doing without. Washington needs to wake up and see where the REAL problems lie and revamp the system. There has been talk, here, about having to take a drug test before you get your benefits....I will be glad to take one....I have nothing to hide!!!

August 12 2011 at 8:45 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Nanny Pam's comment
sugarcreekchile

The people who really deserve food stamps and need help are the ones who get little. The food stamp scam is nothing new. Years ago, I lived in a lower class area for a couple of years and the neighborhood drug addicts and drunks who worked under the table for cash would come around trying to sell their food stamps for cash. When they switched to the EBT cards, they'd offer to go to the store with you and pay for your food with their stamps. Ususally, they'd want $1 for every $2 in food stamps, if desperate, they'd go 3 for 1. They finally stopped asking me because even though it was tempting, I wouldn't take them up on it because I didn't want to associate with those types of people.

August 12 2011 at 9:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
nceloisej

Go back to commoties. Onces a month you go pick up necessities.Flour, meal, can meat, milk. You take it home and cook it,

August 12 2011 at 8:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
RONNY

The whole welfare system needs to be revamped. It is to easy for well bodied people to sit and refuse to work and live for free. We need to go back to the day when if you were on welfare you could only use the money for certaiin things and foods. That way it would give them something to work for it they wanted it. Now days I think it is crazy to be able to go to McDonald's or any other fast food restaurant and use a welfare card. If that doesn't make the people that work hard everyday then go to the local grocery store on the 1st or the 15th of the month and watch your tax dollars go waste. Crab legs, shrimp, steaks and fresh fish all the stuff that hard working people would love to have but can't make it work in their budget. Or watch someone with a Gucci purse, new Nikes and well manicured nails go to the register and get cash back from the wellfare card. Yes, I believe we should help those who can't help themselves but, I believe everyone should work if they can.

August 12 2011 at 8:06 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
danelaura

The welfare department in this country is a sick joke! My husband lost his job and after 8 months of not being able to find work and depleting our savings he went to the local office to see about benefits.....he was told that he was ineligible basically because he could receive unemployment, however little it was. The kicker was a girl walked in while he was there that sat down and said "today is my 18th birthday so I want to file for benefits" The worker helping my husband says that the scam is the parents send these kids in to get benefits and that she will most likely get the HIGHEST amount available!

August 12 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
bhtxd004

i went to try and get food stamps years ago, i was self employed and business was in a bad slump and off season for me. It was hard for me to show a verifiable income being self employed and was denied. A lady at the next desk and she was of a different ethnic variety than me, she got a fist full of food stamps and we left about the same time, she got in her NEW Cadillac and left. I picked up cans along the highway to feed my family and never went back.
I too saw what happened after Katrina, I did inspections there and saw people who were renters with NO damage who got as many as 5 checks and 5 red cross cards(food stamp) it was pathetic as those who needed it could not get it and those who did not need anything took advantage. made me want to puke every day for 93 days straight in the field trying to help people.

August 12 2011 at 7:55 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to bhtxd004's comment
Phyllis

This happens all the time, I am a senior and I need food stamps and Medicaid because my Medicare that I paid for, and am still paying a premium for each month will not allow me to get the surgery I need nor can I by meds and food so its a toss up. I see people in line in the grocery store all the time, don't speak English with food stamps I just boil over at times. Good luck to you.

August 12 2011 at 7:59 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Brock

this sort of story is so sad; for the people who truly need food stamps to survive and these clowns abuse the system.

August 12 2011 at 7:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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