'$250 million is the floor': DOJ indicts 47 defendants in 'brazen' pandemic food program fraud scheme

'$250 million is the floor': DOJ indicts 47 defendants in 'brazen' pandemic food program fraud scheme
Image via Creative Commons.

On Tuesday, September 20, Attorney General Merrick Garland and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) announced that 47 defendants in Minnesota had been indicted on federal charges for their alleged participation in a scheme to defraud a program that provided food for needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Altogether, according to DOJ, the alleged fraud amounted to $250 million.

In an official statement, Garland said, “These indictments, alleging the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date, underscore the Department of Justice’s sustained commitment to combating pandemic fraud and holding accountable those who perpetrate it.”

The Washington Post’s Tony Romm, in an article published on September 20, explains, “Federal prosecutors said the defendants — a network of individuals and organizations tied to Feeding Our Future, a Minnesota-based nonprofit — allegedly put the wrongly obtained federal pandemic funds toward luxury cars, houses and other personal purchases in what amounted to a case of ‘brazen’ theft…. The alleged scheme centered on the Federal Child Nutrition Program, which is administered by the Agriculture Department to provide free meals to the children of lower-income families. Congress greatly expanded the program over the course of the pandemic, including by allowing a wider array of organizations to distribute food at a larger range of locations.”

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Romm notes that federal prosecutors are alleging that Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, “oversaw a vast fraud scheme across Minnesota.”

According to Romm, “Bock recruited individuals and companies that ‘fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day,’ prosecutors contend. Some of the defendants created shell companies to enroll in the program and serve as sites for meal distribution, according to the government. In other cases, the Justice Department alleges that the defendants submitted the names of fake kids obtaining meals and false invoices for food purchases that never occurred.”

The reporter adds, “Feeding Our Future ultimately reaped $18 million in administrative fees that in the eyes of the government it was ‘not entitled’ to receive. Company employees also appeared to solicit ‘bribes and kickbacks’ from individuals and companies that it sponsored, the government says.”

The investigation into Feeding Our Future has been going on since early 2021, and Bock has insisted that she did nothing wrong. The charges that defendants are facing, according to federal prosecutor Andrew Luger, include “conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.” Luger, at a news conference, also said, “This $250 million is the floor. Our investigation continues.”

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