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Woman accused of stealing children’s Christmas gifts from ‘Toys for Tots’

The proud Florida sheriff stood at the front of the room full of reporters, holding up a photo of the green, sinister Christmas character.

“This is really not the Grinch,” Grady Judd, Polk County sheriff, said, before holding up a second photo – a woman’s mug shot. “This is the Grinch.”

The woman, Tammy Strickland, 38, is accused of taking part in a scam to steal toys from “Toys for Tots,” a program run by the United States Marine Corps Reserve to distribute toys to children whose parents cannot afford them for Christmas. She was arrested on Monday and charged with 166 felony counts – including grand theft and using fictitious identification – as well as 28 misdemeanor charges.

After receiving a tip, detectives learned that Strickland – a former volunteer with the charitable organization – had submitted counterfeit applications for children’s toys, using 140 fictitious children’s names and 28 fictitious adult names.

In an undercover sting, detectives arranged to meet the woman at a “Toys for Tots” warehouse Monday for her to collect the donated toys for the applications she had submitted. She drove to the warehouse in a 2005 Cadillac Escalade to load the toys onto a utility trailer.

“Do you hear me?” Judd reiterated in the news conference. “She drove up in her Cadillac.”

Detectives told Strickland her bail would amount to about $180,000, to which she responded “well, I guess I’m not going anywhere,” Judd said.

“Well yeah, Tammy, you are going someplace,” Judd said. “You are going where we lock up Grinches. It’s called the county jail, or Grinch city.”

“And Tammy,” he added. “You’re going to eat pressed turkey on Christmas morning.”

Through a search warrant in Strickland’s home, detectives found 118 unwrapped toys, which a witness in the home said were from “Toys for Tots,” Judd said. Detectives determined she submitted some fictitious applications for “Toys for Tots” in 2015, the same year she volunteered as a route coordinator for the organization, picking up toys from various local businesses.

It is unclear what exactly the woman – who has children of her own – was doing with the toys after obtaining them, Judd said. Strickland, who owns an income tax preparation services company in Auburndale, Florida, had previously advertised giving away toys to her customers, Judd said. The investigation is ongoing and other charges are possible.

During the news conference, Judd motioned to a table that displayed the various toys authorities seized from Strickland’s house.

“There would have been 140 children going without Christmas this year because of her ugly attitude,” Judd said.

The holiday spirit was evident at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, especially on its Twitter and Facebook accounts, which show a photo of Judd in a Santa Claus hat, and include multiple posts with lyrics to Christmas songs written primarily in emoji. To publicize Tuesday’s news conference, the office also posted an image on Facebook of reporters alongside a photo-shopped elf.

“We’re excited that she’s in jail,” Judd said. “It makes my Christmas a happy Christmas.”

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