Criminal fugitives on the run are getting help from taxpayers through food stamps, prescriptions and other government benefits, South Florida bail bondsmen say.
Raul Gomez, who is wanted for an alleged robbery of a Little Havana grocery store, is one suspect using tax dollars to escape capture, Jenny Garcia of Sunshine Bail Bonds says. Authorities say Gomez, 50, who has spent time in a North Florida prison, changes his name when it suits him and changes his birthday too – assets for a man on the run who skipped bond.
“He says well, catch me if you can,” Garcia said.
The bail bondswoman has been on Gomez's trail after he allegedly robbed a Sedano’s. He did not appear at a court hearing on July 18, prompting a judge to issue an “alias capias” (similar to a bench warrant) for his arrest as his bond was forfeited, a spokeswoman for the 11th Judicial Circuit of Florida said.
Garcia said that while Gomez is shifty, he’s got other help too – from taxpayers.
“I found out that he is under a disability program. He gets a certain amount of money a month to live. He gets a card to buy food. Plus Medicaid and Medicare for his medication,” she said.
Garcia said that she obtained documentation indicating that Gomez had been coming to a Walgreens on Flagler Street to use his benefits to pick up medications. Garcia showed NBC 6 Walgreens documents that list about $650 per month in prescription and drug benefits that she believes are going to Gomez.
Gomez’s lawyer declined to comment.
“For a fugitive to have access to funds, obviously, it aids in their flight to avoid prosecution,” said Barry Golden of the U.S. Marshals Service in the Southern District of Florida.
But Gomez is not the only such case. Jose Gonzalez of Superior Bail Bonds said Tuvulsiae Chambers was getting disability at the same time he was on the run to avoid a charge of identity theft.
“Basically I believe it’s an ongoing thing – people missing court and becoming fugitives, and then at the same time they’re getting government assistance,” Gonzalez said.
But when the bondsmen go to the Social Security Administration to see where the checks are going, confidentiality rules stop Social Security from helping.
“I have a fugitive on the run. He is a convicted felon receiving all these benefits,” Garcia recalled of her trip to the Social Security office. “They told me that they cannot give me any information of where his benefits are going.”
What should have happened when the judge issued the warrant for her to find Gomez, Garcia said, is that “the Department of Corrections is supposed to notify the Social Security Administration of anybody who got arrested due to a felony, or is on a fugitive run, or got convicted, and the system is not working.”
Patti Patterson of the Social Security Administration said in a statement that it suspends income “... for fugitives receiving payments who are wanted for escape, flight to avoid prosecution or confinement.”
Meantime, Lee Millman of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services said that Medicare does not pay for services for people who have escaped from confinement.
But it remains unclear who notifies federal benefit agencies such as the Social Security Administration about fugitives in such cases. The Department of Corrections said it would not be the agency that should notify the government that someone took off because technically a person on bond isn't in their custody. And the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office said such notification duties are not the responsibility of prosecutors.
The U.S. Marshals Service has a new program to aid in apprehending fugitives. Anyone with information on the whereabouts of a fugitive can text “TIP411” or “847411” and enter the keyword “USMFL.” For more information, visit www.usmarshals.gov/investigations/taskfrcs/rftfs/florida/index.html, or go to www.usmarshals.gov, click on “Apprehending Fugitives,” then“Fugitive Task Forces,” and finally “Florida/Caribbean.”