The taxpayers' money was to be used by low-income moms to feed their babies.
Instead, the federal funds were used by six scammers to feed their own greed, according to findings by a state grand jury.
Attorney General Tom Corbett yesterday announced the results of the investigating grand jury and the arrests of six Philadelphia residents charged with theft, conspiracy and related offenses.
The six are accused of stealing $375,000 from the state Department of Health's Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
At the time, they worked at NORTH Inc., the nonprofit agency in Philadelphia that manages the distribution of WIC checks to low-income recipients in the city. The checks, or vouchers, are to be used at participating stores for specific food items - such as baby cereal, formula or peanut butter. They are not allowed to be exchanged for cash.
The six defendants, who worked as nutrition professionals at NORTH, allegedly created fake checks in the names of fake recipients on their work computers from 2001 to 2007. They then allegedly went to local stores and received the food items or got a store employee to give them cash for the checks.
Corbett said a supervisor, Mikiba Carter, 41, of Conestoga Street near Woodland Avenue in Southwest Philadelphia, was "the most adept at creating these fake checks and allegedly taught the other employees how to create their own fake checks. . . .
"She redeemed these checks for cash and sometimes used them for baby formula, which she then sold on the street," he said.
According to the grand jury's findings, an employee at a Philadelphia food market first noticed something wrong when a woman in August 2006 presented WIC food checks in the names of seven people. The store employee reported this to NORTH's retail-store coordinator.
The checks were determined to have been created at the work terminal of then-NORTH employee Gail Polk, 53, formerly of Warnock Street near Louden in Logan. Polk, like Carter, was among those charged yesterday.
The four other defendants are Takarra Scott, 31, of Old York Road near Ontario Street, North Philadelphia; Crystal Gray, 43, of 54th Street near Pentridge, Kingsessing; Melvin Jones, 40, of Sharpnack Street near Emlen, West Mount Airy; and Tasha Riddick, believed to be 37 or 41, formerly of Georges Lane near Columbia Avenue in Wynnefield.
NORTH, which stands for North Central Organized Regionally for Total Health, is headquartered at Broad Street near Wallace in the Spring Garden section of the city.
Corbett said the six would be prosecuted in Dauphin County because the funds had been processed through the Pennsylvania Treasury in Harrisburg.
He also said that the investigation was ongoing and that the case would be referred to the state auditor general with the recommendation that his office audit the whole WIC program.