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Thousands in welfare cash tapped at California strip clubs

June 30, 2010 |  2:13 pm

California welfare recipients have been able to get taxpayer cash -- meant to feed and clothe needy families -- from ATM machines at strip clubs across the state, including some well-known gentlemen’s cabarets in Los Angeles.

More than $12,000 from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was dispensed from the start of 2007 to the end of 2009 at clubs including Sam’s Hofbrau, Seventh Veil and Star Strip, according to officials at the Department of Social Services.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has ordered the department to remove the clubs from the official list of businesses where welfare recipients can withdraw benefits using state-issued ATM cards.

The move came a day after The Times asked the administration how much welfare cash had been withdrawn at 17 adult clubs in recent years and less than a week after The Times reported that more than half the casinos and state-licensed poker rooms in California appeared on an official website showing welfare recipients where they can access cash benefits.

Following that report, Schwarzenegger ordered the casinos struck from the state’s ATM network and directed the Department of Social Services to produce a plan to reduce “waste, fraud and abuse” in the welfare program.

“We'll take a wide-ranging look and apply some common sense to the list of outlets where cash assistance should not be withdrawn,” Department of Social Services spokeswoman Lizelda Lopez wrote in an e-mail to The Times on Tuesday evening, announcing that her department had “taken steps to deactivate ATMs in adult entertainment clubs.”

Strip-club managers seemed shocked that welfare benefits were accessible through their ATMs.  In most cases, the machines were provided by a third party, the managers said, and they had no way of knowing their ATMs are part of the state system.

The state contracts with the Quest ATM network.

“If there’s a way that the ATM can reject their card if they’re on welfare, I’m really and truly all for that,” said Merle Matias, manager at Sam’s Hofbrau in downtown Los Angeles, where $2,159 had been withdrawn, according to Department of Social Services officials.  “I don’t think it will affect us at all.”

Star Strip manager Joey Mancini said state officials must be wrong about the $1,265 they said had been withdrawn from his club’s ATM.  The Quest symbol isn’t on the machine, he said, adding that he thought any system that allowed access to welfare benefits at a strip club should be reformed: “This is not what that money is for.”

A manager at Seventh Veil declined to comment.

-- Jack Dolan in Sacramento

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