Three defendants who own and operate an Atlanta pharmacy have been convicted by a jury of a multi-million dollar fraud scheme that targeted the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (“WIC”) program. Each defendant was convicted of conspiracy and multiple fraud counts for buying WIC vouchers from low-income recipients and then fraudulently seeking reimbursement from the federal government at a higher dollar amount as if they had actually provided nutritious food to those recipients.
“The defendants bought vouchers from low-income recipients and sought refunds from the federal government at a significant profit instead of providing the nutritious foods to infants and children listed on the vouchers,” said U.S. Attorney Byung J. “BJay” Pak. “The defendants’ scheme lined their pockets at the expense of federal taxpayers and the low-income women and children who stood to benefit from the program.”
“The Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program was created to provide food and nutrition to those who truly need this assistance. Those who are involved in fraud and abuse of USDA feeding programs will be investigated by our office to the fullest extent,” stated United States Department of Agriculture, Office of Inspector General (USDA-OIG), Special Agent-in-Charge Jason Williams. “The USDA-OIG will continue to dedicate investigative resources, working with our law enforcement and prosecutorial partners, in order to protect the integrity of these programs and bring to justice those who commit fraud. We would like to thank the U.S. Attorney’s Office as well as the Georgia Department of Public Health for assisting us with this investigation.”
According to U.S. Attorney Pak, the charges and other information presented in court: Defendants Pauline Mediko Badiki and Ferdinand Mediko were siblings who owned and operated the Poly-Plex Pharmacy, which is located in the Bankhead neighborhood of Atlanta. Defendant Monica Mediko, who was Ferdinand Mediko’s wife, worked there as a pharmacy technician. In 2005, Poly-Plex became an authorized vendor of the WIC program, which is a U.S. Department of Agriculture food grant program administered statewide by the Georgia Department of Public Health. The WIC program provides healthy foods to low-income pregnant women, as well as infants and children up to age 5 who are nutritionally at risk. WIC recipients receive benefits in the form of paper vouchers, which can be exchanged at authorized vendors only for the healthy foods listed on the vouchers. As part of their participation as authorized vendors, the defendants received training on WIC program rules, including the prohibition on buying vouchers.
From at least 2009 through June 2013, the defendants bought WIC vouchers from low-income mothers for a fraction of their face value instead of providing the infant formula and food listed on the vouchers. After purchasing the vouchers, the defendants deposited them into their bank accounts as if they had provided recipients with the healthy foods listed on the vouchers and sought reimbursement from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
During the time frame of the conspiracy, the defendants deposited tens of thousands of WIC vouchers that resulted in approximately $6.5 million in reimbursements from federal funds, which far surpassed the WIC redemptions from much larger big-box grocery stores located just miles away. Despite the massive amount of WIC redemptions, Poly-Plex Pharmacy had less than $1.3 million in actual expenses for food and infant formula during the same time frame.
Based on defendants’ multi-year scheme, the jury convicted the defendants of wire fraud conspiracy and 12 counts each of wire fraud, theft of government funds, and WIC fraud.
Sentencing for Pauline Mediko Badiki, 55, Ferdinand Mediko, 57, and Monica Mediko, 52, all of Atlanta, Georgia, has not yet been scheduled.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture, Office of the Inspector General is investigating this case.
Assistant U.S. Attorneys Nathan P. Kitchens and Thomas J. Krepp are prosecuting the case.