Fifteen suspects were arrested for stealing over $38 million from low-income Southern California families.

The suspects targeted funds disbursed through CalWORKs and CalFresh programs, which “help low-income beneficiaries purchase food and provide for basic needs,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

In total, over $38.9 million was stolen from victims’ EBT cards for the food stamp program, officials said.

A large-scale operation resulted in the arrest of 15 suspects, many of whom authorities say are Romanian nationals.

Over 300 law enforcement officers monitored 20 ATM locations across the Los Angeles area during the investigation.

The suspects used “cloned” cards to fraudulently withdraw money. Cloned cards are “debit cards, gift cards or other devices with magnetic strips that have been encoded with information from legitimate EBT cards,” officials explain.

Investigators recovered 429 cloned cards containing state-issued EBT information.

Some of the withdrawals were obtained through skimming devices installed on ATMs, officials said.

On Feb. 2, three suspects were arrested for allegedly withdrawing funds from ATM machines in Hollywood and Tarzana using cloned EBT cards, officials said. All three were charged with aggravated identity theft, unlawful use of unauthorized access devices and possession of 15 or more unauthorized access devices.

On March 1, 11 Romanian national suspects were arrested on charges of EBT access card fraud with losses totaling over $1,000, which is a federal felony.

“By stealing public benefits using counterfeit EBT cards, the defendant in these cases plundered the accounts of some of our community’s poorest residents — people who need these benefits to survive,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “These actions are part of a larger assault on the EBT system, one which has caused tens of millions of dollars in losses”

“The Los Angeles Police Department started the investigation into the fraudulent withdrawal of benefits in August 2022, and the United States Secret Service soon after joined “Operation Urban Justice” as a joint partner,” said the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

The case remains under investigation by the U.S. Secret Service and the LAPD.