State targets alleged welfare cheats

By Mike McDaniel - email
SIMPSON COUNTY, MS (WLBT) - When investigators with the Department of Human Services and a sheriff's deputy pulled up to Virginia Broocks' Simpson County home Thursday morning, she knew the jig was up.

"Yes, I am guilty of charging food on accounts and letting them pay with it by food stamps," said Broocks as she was being arrested. "But there has not been any cash pass my hands."

What she's guilty of, investigator Frank Saddler says, is trading EBT card benefits from customers in exchange for gas and nonfood items and also giving cash back from those cards at her Simpson County store called Broocks Express Shop on Highway 28.

"She has a business that she's actually using to defraud a system that's put in place to help people in need," said Saddler.

Saddler says Broocks got about $6,000 from the transactions and the department has been watching her for about seven months. While admitting her guilt, Broocks says she did it for a reason.

"I did it to feed the children in the household," said Broocks. When asked how long she'd been making the transactions, she said she wasn't sure.

"It's not every month, it's just periodically and I can't tell you because when they come to me and the kids need food, I let them have it," said Broocks.

That's an excuse Saddler says he hears all the time and the fact is Broocks knowingly profited.

"Whatever that benefit amount is they swiped in her business, it goes into her bank account," said Saddler.

Investigators say this type of crime is a far too common occurrence all across the state, one that ultimately leads to places with high fences and razor wire. Saddler travels across the state making arrests. A large portion of them are in the Delta region.

"Anyone that tries to defraud the system that supposed to be in place to help needy people, we're out there to get them and I can assure you we will get them," said Saddler.

After leaving her home in the back of a patrol car, Broocks was charged with multiple counts of welfare trafficking and fraud, complete with a $20,000 bond.

During the state's 2010 fiscal year, 39 retail stores across the state were investigated for illegal use, transfer or trafficking of assistance program benefits.

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