Former inmate alleges food-card theft at Hamilton County jail
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- The Hamilton County Sheriff's Department confirms its Internal Affairs detectives are investigating jail operations, after a homeless man claims his identity and property were stolen while he was in custody.
"When I was released on November 5, I got in my wallet and my food stamp card was gone," says Gregory Sciance.
Sciance opted to do ten-and-one-half weeks in custody, for deliberately violating probation, for a theft charge that he calls a misunderstanding.
"Probation is a trick, I wanted to get it over with," Sciance says. "I'd borrowed a buddy's truck, and he'd panicked and thought I'd stole (sic) it."
But he claims there's no denying he's now the victim.
"It (the Electronic Benefits Transfer or EBT card) had to have been stolen before they transferred me to Silverdale," he says. "That's when the charges started."
Sciance claims he was able to document eight cases of unauthorized usage when he checked his EBT account on line with Tennessee's Department of Human Services.
All but one occurred at either the Dollar General Store in Dunlap, or the Wal Mart nearby. The final debit, for $93.62, occurred at the Dollar Tree store in Soddy Daisy October 27, he says.
"Got me for $370.51 altogether," Sciance says. "Basically, it was still an active card when I called and canceled it."
"Internal Affairs has been looking into Mr. Sciance's claim since last Tuesday," Sheriff's Department spokeswoman Janice Atkinson tells Channel 3.
But as to whom might have had access to Sciance's personal property while he was in custody?
"We will have no further comment until the investigation is over," Atkinson says.
Sciance says he has no doubt how it happened.
"It's very easy to change your PIN," he says, referring to the Personal Identification Number that the EBT program requires before recipients may use the card to pay for groceries.
"Just dial the automated service, enter your Social Security Number and date of birth, and you can change it. And anybody working at the jail would have all that right in front of them."
Ironically, the Department of Agriculture (USDA) implemented the EBT cards to make theft and fraud more difficult, according to the USDA's web site.
The cards provide paper-and-electronic trails previously unavailable when benefits were delivered via coupons or 'stamps.'
Sciance expects to receive a replacement EBT card this week. He's been taking all of his meals at Chattanooga's Community Kitchen and Rescue Mission.
"Whoever did this ought to do 180 days," he says. "Eating jailhouse food and sleeping on hard beds, noise all the time. They ought to have to do the same thing I did."