The Grinch is alive and well and living at the post office, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court in Manhattan Wednesday.

Three postal workers at the main James A. Farley Post Office in Manhattan were accused of ripping off Christmas gifts intended for underprivileged children under the postal service's Operation Santa program, scamming items ranging from iPads to toy trains.

The program is designed to match wish lists sent to Santa Claus with private "Secret Santa" donors, who agree to "adopt" a letter writer. But the workers allegedly stuffed the files with phony letters they wrote themselves.

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The government said workers Terry Jackson, Mahogany Strickland and Nickyeves Saintalbord also took boxes with presents brought to the post office by donors, and put their addresses on the packages.

During the 2013-14 holiday season, when the thefts were allegedly occurring, the postal service received more than 300,000 letters from children to Santa, was able to process only 7,000 and less than half of those were actually adopted.

"Because Operation Santa was not able to fulfill all of the requests, every gift that was fraudulently obtained by a participant in the scheme effectively deprived an underprivileged child of a gift," the complaint said.

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Jackson, 22, of Queens, described as the "ringleader," and Strickland, 23, and Saintalbord, 28, both of Manhattan, were released after appearing in court. Their lawyers declined to comment on the charges.

Prosecutors said they used positions administering the Santa program to treat themselves to items like laptops, tablets, printers, headphones and clothing. The complaint indicated that Strickland and Saintalbord are still postal workers.

The Postal Service, in a statement, said it was "troubled and extremely disappointed" by the charges, would take disciplinary action and hoped trust in the program was not shaken.

"For more than 100 years, the Operation Santa program has helped thousands of children and families in need," it said. "The Postal Service and our employees plan to continue the proud tradition of responding to those who write to Santa."

Under the program, personal information about the children is supposed to be cut from the letters. Redacted versions are then made available in a public file to corporate and other donors. After choosing letters and purchasing gifts, the donors deliver their presents to the post office, which uses the identifying information from the original letters to mail the packages.

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Prosecutors said the defendants admitted to the scheme. Jackson, the complaint said, admitted writing four or five letters pretending to be a child, made 20 copies of each to be placed in the adoption file, and substituted his address on packages 50 times. The three are charged with conspiracy, mail fraud and receipt of stolen mail.