By Daylina Miller
Thousands of Floridians – including children - who receive public assistance benefits like food stamps and Medicaid had their personal information stolen by a Department of Children and Families employee.
The Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office has charged seven South Florida residents in connection with the data breach.
Detectives launched the initial investigation in May 2019 after being contacted by a retailer in the University Town Center area in Sarasota about suspected fraudulent activity.
Names, phone numbers, emails, social security numbers and more from a statewide DCF database were sold and used to open credit cards and make counterfeit driver’s licenses.
Detectives determined the stolen information was used in more than 40 transactions throughout the state of Florida, yielding an estimated $260,000 in retail theft.
Bertanicy Garcia, 48, was an interviewing clerk for DCF in the Miami office. Garcia sent more than 500 photos of personal information tied to both adult and child victims to 43-year-old Eduardo Lamigueiro. Detectives confirmed the information was accessed using the DCF database.
Taylor Hatch, Department of Children and Family Services Assistant Secretary for Economic Self-Sufficiency, said they're notifying anyone whose personal information may have been compromised, and providing identity theft protection services to those individuals at no cost.
“The alleged actions of the individual involved in this investigation took critical resources away from the children and families who needed it the most,” Hatch said.
“These actions are not reflective of the 12,000 DCF employees who serve vulnerable families day in and day out. The department immediately terminated this employee and all access to DCF systems were revoked.”
She says DCF has ordered an assessment of their systems to improve security.
“Secretary (Chad) Poppell has ordered an immediate assessment of the department's public benefit systems to enhance safeguards, identify process improvements and ensure that our program operates with the highest level of integrity,” Hatch said.
“Additionally, DCF is reviewing identity theft safety measures from private sector companies to implement within our program.”
Colonel Kurt Hoffman, a former prosecutor, said these kinds of crimes will have a lasting effect. He said one woman affected by the breach has to put buying a house on hold until her credit issues are resolved.
"I think you'd have an easier time getting a criminal charge expunged than you would cleaning up some of the credit reports that are going to come out of this several thousand victims that we know so far,” Hoffman said.
Sarasota Sheriff’s Office detectives worked in partnership with several law enforcement agencies including the U.S. Secret Service, Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Miami-Dade Police Department, City of Miami Police Department, and Hialeah Police Department, to take five of the seven charged individuals into custody. Two are still at large.
The investigation is ongoing and additional charges are pending. SCSO is urging anyone with information about these crimes to call their Criminal Investigations department at (941) 861-4900.
The seven people charged with crimes so far in the investigation:
- Bertanicy Garcia, DOB 02/27/71, of Miami, is charged with two counts of Criminal Use of Personal Identification More than 30 Times.
- Eduardo Lamigueiro, DOB 08/05/75, of Miami, is wanted by authorities. Warrants have been issued for his arrest. He is charged with Criminal Use of Personal Identification More than 30 Times, Criminal Use of Personal Identification Information, and Grand Theft Less than $5,000.
- Roxana Ruiz, DOB 09/11/80, of Miami, is wanted by authorities. Warrants have been issued for her arrest. She is charged is charged with Principal to Criminal Use of Personal Identification More than 30 Times.
- Jose Perez, DOB 10/30/75, of Hialeah, is charged with Criminal Use of Personal identification Information and Grand Theft Less Than $5,000.
- Nelson Cobo-Hernandez, DOB 06/08/81, of Miami, is charged with Principal to Criminal Use of Personal Identification More than 30 Times.
- Junior Perodin Verges, DOB 10/11/74, of Hialeah, is charged with Criminal Use of Personal Identification Information Greater than $5,000.
- Marcos Cobo-Gonzalez, DOB 11/30/88, of Miami, is charged with Principal to Criminal Use of Personal Identification More than 30 Times.