PHOENIX (KSAZ) - They're supposed to be helping those in need, the employees at the Arizona Department of Economic Security. The state-run agency that provides benefits for lower income people.
In recent months, several employees have been arrested, accused of stealing from the agency.
One of the employees, Angela Ingram was accused of using someone else's identity to get food stamps, and Alina Lipsey was accused of creating fake client families. DES Director Timothy Jeffries says these arrests and the most recent ones should send a strong message that stealing from the poor won't be tolerated.
"Unfortunately people steal, and that is illegal and it's particularly reprehensible when stealing from the poor," said Timothy Jeffries.
Thursday officials issued seven search warrants in an extensive sting that identified $2.6 million in money laundering, drug trafficking, and fraud of DES benefits. The investigation led to four people being arrested.
A total of nine people who use the program are suspected of committing food stamp fraud totaling $40,000 and AHCCCS fraud of $102,000.
Jeffries says people committing fraud like this have been fired in the past, but none were prosecuted.
"DES was literally releasing criminals into the street, criminals who had stolen from the poor. I mean seriously, this agency has been in existence since 1972, and there was never an arrest of an employee until this administration," said Jeffries.
Since being appointed back in February nearly 80 employees had been fired. It's something he calls a crackdown on negativity and unworthy employees, and those breaking the law.
"I've provided our office of inspector general the type of support they always should have. There were various hires that still needed to be made; there were various cases that still needed to be vetted. I've freed them to be as vigorous as they should be in an effort to protect the public trust," said Jeffries.
One of the many employees fired in the past was Michael Veit, he worked for the state for 35 years and is accused of defrauding the state $1.5 million.
"The quest of DES is to be there today and every day there after, and these arrests are a part of getting there," said Jeffries.
Jeffries says he knows there will be more arrests, but he's hoping the arrests they've been making are sending a strong message to make people think twice.