They scammed my officers, Winter Park police chief says
Free government cellphone scheme dupes Central Florida cops
WINTER PARK, Fla. – At least 11 Winter Park police officers and staffers applied for and received free government phones in an alleged multi-million dollar conspiracy to fleece America's Lifeline phone program.
The police department is the latest agency or organization targeted by employees of New York-based Elite Marketing.
The Winter Park officers applied for the phones during a community "Take Back the Night" event on Oct. 7, 2014.
According to Winter Park police Chief Brett Rainey, the former Orlando manager for Safelink, identified as Lain Strutton, applied for vendor space at the event and was approved.
Rainey said that night, Strutton and a male associate started taking applications after telling police officers they were eligible for free government phones.
"Obama-phone was the word they continually used with the officers," Rainey said.
WKMG-TV NEWS 6 first uncovered the free-phones conspiracy targeting military veterans in late July.
Hundreds of Florida veterans signed up for free phone applications between Sept. 2014 and July 2015.
Employees offered the free phones at veterans' clinics and American Legion Halls.
They said veterans were approved in 20 minutes and received the phones by mail in a small brown box roughly five days later.
In early July, Safelink started sending out letters to veterans asking them to confirm eligibility under the Lifeline program.
According to Safelink, there never was a program for military veterans or police.
Sources tell News 6 the Federal government's Lifeline program was charged "millions of dollars" in fraudulent applications for veterans, police officers, retired police chiefs and firefighters.
Rainey admits he's angry.
"It takes a lot of gall to come into a police department where you are surrounded by law enforcement and run a scam," said Rainey.
But it appears Winter Park police officers weren't the only law enforcement group caught in the deception.
A former Elite Marketing representative was invited to Debary on Jan. 30 to present the same bogus program to 50 retired police chiefs representing cities across the state of Florida.
The event was held at the Swamp House Grill restaurant.
A source said many former chiefs signed up for the Safelink phones.
Employees said they were convinced the government program was legitimate and had no idea the system was a fraud.
Federal investigators are looking at the applications used on the tablets and are well aware of the free phone scheme.
It's not clear how far reaching the investigation is at this point, but several former employees have been contacted by federal agents.
Employees confirm they were told to push the SSI and Medicaid buttons on the tablet applications simultaneously.
Safelink said that exposed a "glitch" the allowed the bogus programs to be approved.
Rainey said his department will cooperate with the Department of Justice, Safelink or any other organization investigating this.
A spokesman for Safelink said the company is cooperating with the federal government and has been for months.
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