GWINNETT COUNTY, Ga.,None - Arrest warrants have been issued for three women accused of using fake government vouchers to steal baby food and other WIC-approved items, Lilburn police said.
For several months, investigators said the women were able to pass off the fake vouchers because they were printed on authentic voucher paper.
Police said since October, the three women have used the phony vouchers at Kroger stores across metro Atlanta, including in Gwinnett, Fulton, DeKalb, Cobb, Cherokee and Rockdale counties. Police said they are also investigating complaints from local Publix and Target stores.
The vouchers appeared to be checks for the WIC program, a federally funded food program for low-income pregnant women and children under the age of five.
The Lilburn cooperative ministry keeps a small supply of baby food and formula for families in crisis. And volunteers there were shocked to learn someone would pose as a mother in need.
"It just turns my stomach because you see so many people that are truly in need and it puts a bad light on the people that really are in need," said volunteer Judy Wilkins.
"Our investigation revealed the items were purchased then resold to another individual," said Lilburn police Capt. Ben Haynes said.
Haynes said three women would buy approved items like baby formula and give them to someone who would resell them. The women would get a cut of the profit.
Lilburn police have issued arrest warrants for Tracy Dupree and Jamila Scott, of Lithonia, and Ericka Norman of Decatur.
Police said it was tough for the clerks to spot the vouchers as fakes because they look so real.
"They were actually created on WIC voucher paper, but fraudulently created, Haynes said. Its likely someone working for WIC supplied the women with the paper and possibly printed them as well, said Haynes.
Kroger estimates that it has lost more than $60,000, but police said this type of theft ends up costing everyone.
"That cost has to get shifted somewhere and we all end up paying for it in the end," Haynes said.
"And people tend to get suspicious of people that really do need assistance, Wilkins said.
Because WIC is a federal program, the USDA is also investigating how the women got their hands on the WIC voucher paper.