The Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs issued a press release on Tuesday detailing charges that were brought against 47 separate defendants for their alleged roles in a $250 million fraud scheme.
The scheme was described to have “exploited a federally-funded child nutrition program during the COVID-19 pandemic,” and is the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme to date.
The Federal Child Nutrition Program intends to serve meals to children. In Minnesota, the meals are administered through sites, which must be sponsored by an authorized sponsoring organization. All sites must be approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, and site sponsors are responsible for successfully operating their sites and preparing the corresponding reimbursement claims, per the Department of Justice.
The government explained that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the program sought to ensure underserved children would continue to receive adequate nutrition by waiving some standard requirements. Changes included that for-profit restaurants would be allowed to participate in the program and off-site food distribution would be allowed for children not in educational programs.
The defendants allegedly exploited the changes in the program and obtained, misappropriated, and laundered the program’s funds. The fraud scheme was carried out under Feeding Our Future and its executive director, Aimee Bock’s, sponsorship. Bock was charged in the indictment with overseeing the fraud scheme. Feeding Our Future purportedly recruited others to open sites throughout Minnesota, where they “fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed.” The defendants also created shell companies to enroll in the program and receive the proceeds of the scheme and submitted false documentations, invoices, and attendance rosters.
Collectively, the defendants wrongfully obtained over $250 million and used the money to purchase luxury cars, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad, per the release. The defendants face charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery. Feeding Our Future received over $18 million in administrative fees that they were not entitled to, as well as receiving bribes and kickbacks from individuals and companies they sponsored. The company also gave reassurance to the Minnesota Department of Education that they were overseeing the more than 250 sites under their sponsorship.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said “the defendants went to great lengths to exploit a program designed to feed underserved children in Minnesota amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulently diverting millions of dollars designated for the program for their own personal gain.” Wray stated that the charges will send the message that “the FBI and our law enforcement partners remain vigilant and will vigorously pursue those who attempt to enrich themselves through fraudulent means.”