By Kathy Jefcoats
ATLANTA — A Riverdale man will be sentenced in July after pleading guilty in federal court to defrauding the WIC program, said officials.
Herbert Dix, 49, pleaded guilty this week to defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture and possessing forged Women, Infant and Children vouchers. Dix had operated a Griffin grocery store, Spanks Quick Shop.
U.S. Attorney Sally Quillian Yates said the crime takes away from families who rely on government assistance to feed their children.
“Many people rely on government assistance to feed their families and children,” said Yates. “This conviction demonstrates our commitment to prosecute those who defraud the USDA of funds meant for the neediest families.”
Karen Citizen-Wilcox, special agent-in-charge of the USDA-OIG, said the government takes fraud seriously.
“The USDA-OIG takes fraud in its nutritional programs very seriously and will work with the Department of Justice and other federal and state law enforcement entities to vigorously investigate and prosecute individuals who defraud USDA programs," she said.
Citizen-Wilcox said the need for nutritional assistance has increased because of the economy. "Taxpayers expect their tax dollars to be used effectively and only within the confines of the rules and regulations of nutritional assistance programs," she said. "Trafficking in benefits by purchasing those benefits for cash is illegal. The OIG is committed to maintaining integrity in the USDA programs and continuing its investigations into these illegal activities.”
Yates said the evidence showed that Dix owned and operated Spank's Quick Shop, a grocery store in Griffin. The store was authorized by the state of Georgia to redeem Women, Infant and Children vouchers for specified food items, such as infant formula, milk and cheese.
The Georgia Department of Public Health issues WIC vouchers to low income-at risk families that they can use to purchase specified food items from authorized grocers, she said. Contrary to federal law and state regulations, Dix and his employees paid cash for the WIC vouchers instead of accepting them as payment for the food items listed on the vouchers.
"On 18 separate occasions, an undercover law enforcement officer entered Spank’s Quick Stop where Dix and his employees redeemed blank WIC vouchers for cash," said Yates. "Dix then filled in an amount on the vouchers significantly greater than what he paid for the vouchers and deposited the vouchers into his bank account."
In December 2010, federal, state and local law enforcement officers executed a search warrant at Spank’s and seized more than 100 forged blank WIC vouchers, she said. An analysis of Dix’s bank records revealed that, between 2010 and 2011, Dix defrauded the USDA of more than $400,000, said Yates.
Dix was indicted in July 2012 on 18 counts of WIC fraud and 83 counts of possession of forged securities and pleaded guilty to the entire indictment.
On counts one through 18, he could receive a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $25,000 on each count, said officials. On counts 19 through 101, he could receive a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 on each count. In determining the actual sentence, the court will consider the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines, which are not binding but provide appropriate sentencing ranges for most offenders.
Sentencing is scheduled for July 17 at 10 a.m., before U.S. District Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr.