As an employee of Florida’s Department of Children & Families, Clara Builes was in charge of approving applications for public-assistance benefits for the poor.
But Miami-Dade prosecutors say that for nearly four years, she used her position to help steal the the identities of several unsuspecting people, getting fraudulent benefit cards used to buy nearly $20,000 in food and groceries.
Builes and her husband, Gonzalez Builes, 53, surrendered Wednesday to face an array of white-collar charges, including official misconduct, grand theft and public assistance fraud.
The couple will appear in Miami-Dade bond court on Thursday.
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“We’ve been in contact with the authorities for several months,” said their defense attorney, Evan Hoffman. “We’re optimistic about a favorable resolution in this case.”
The investigation started back in September 2013, when a woman named Elizabeth Alzate — who had long ago left Florida for her native Colombia — reported that someone had falsely used her and her children’s identities to get government benefits.
Investigators discovered that the phone number on the application belonged to the Builes’ son. Sure enough, when investigators dug further, they found that Clara Builes, 56, herself had approve the application for the “Economic Benefit Transfer,” or EBT, card that can be used like a debit card at supermarkets.
The card was mailed to the Hialeah address of a co-worker of Gonzalo Builes, who later turned it over to his colleague.
Surveillance video from a West Kendall Publix revealed Gonzalo Builes using the EBT card to make a slew of purchases, which totaled over $5,000. He later admitted to using the ill-gotten cards.
He also admitted to using cards meant for Martha Ramirez and William Bedoya — and racking up more than $10,000 in purchases in their names. Another man named Alberto Rivera also had his identity stolen, according to prosecutors.