A 26-year-veteran of the Tampa Police Department was fired from her job as street sergeant and now faces charges of welfare fraud.
Lajoyce Houston, 47, was booked into the Hillsborough County Jail on Thursday afternoon.
"She has betrayed the community, the men and women of the Tampa Police Department and everything that our agency stands for,” said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor.
At a news conference, Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor explained how the scam worked.
Police say on August 8th, detectives were investigating welfare fraud, listening to inmate phone calls at the Hillsborough jail.
Detectives say they heard Sgt. Houston and inmate 30-year-old Rita Girven discussing how Houston could use her EBT card.
Detectives say in September, Houston used the card to buy $365 in groceries at a local Walmart, then gave the card to another relative who also made unauthorized purchases.
In return, police say Houston gave Girven 50 cents on the dollar in her jail canteen account.
"She stole government assistance thereby depriving those individuals that really needed that assistance,” Castor said.
Police say records show at least 35 jail phone calls were made between Houston and Girven.
Houston's attorney, Dan Fernandez, paints a different picture.
He says she's been with the police department for 16 years rising through the ranks from a uniform patrol officer to a uniform patrol sergeant who supervised other officers.
Fernandez also said Houston has a master’s degree in education.
He said her background shows a "well-educated, outstanding police officer, who's been an asset to the department."
Fernandez also said he is still working to gather all the facts in the case.
An internal investigation is now underway to determine how extensive the welfare fraud and grand theft may have been.
Police say Houston has known Girven for a long time. Houston and her husband, also a Tampa police officer, have legal custody of Girven's 9-year-old child.