DOJ charges 47 people in $250M COVID fraud scheme exploiting federally funded child nutrition program

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The Justice Department on Tuesday charged nearly four dozen people for their alleged roles in a $250 million fraud scheme that exploited a federally funded child nutrition program during the coronavirus pandemic.

Federal prosecutors charged 47 people in Minnesota across six separate indictments with charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery.

According to the charging documents, the defendants devised and carried out a “massive scheme” to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program,” the Justice Department said. The DOJ said the defendants “obtained, misappropriated, and laundered millions of dollars in program funds that were intended as reimbursements for the cost of serving meals to children.”

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The DOJ said the defendants “exploited changes in the program intended to ensure underserved children received adequate nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The Department of Justice (DOJ) building

The Department of Justice (DOJ) building on Thursday, Aug. 18, 2022 in Washington, DC.  (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images / Getty Images)

“Rather than feed children, the defendants enriched themselves by fraudulently misappropriating millions of dollars in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds,” the Justice Department said Tuesday.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA waived some of the standard requirements for participation in the Federal Child Nutrition Program.

Aimee Bock is the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit organization that was a sponsor participating in the Federal Child Nutrition Program. The indictments charge Bock with overseeing a massive fraud scheme carried out by sites under Feeding Our Future’s sponsorship.

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Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.

U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland

Attorney General Merrick Garland delivers a statement at the U.S. Department of Justice August 11, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images / Getty Images)

“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,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said Tuesday. “In partnership with agencies across government, the Justice Department will continue to bring to justice those who have exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stolen from American taxpayers.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray said the indictments describe an “egregious plot to steal public funds meant to care for children in need in what amounts to the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme yet.”

“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 said. “These charges 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.”

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Christopher Wray looks on during the International Conference on Cyber Security at Fordham University at Lincoln Center, January 9, 2018 in New York City. Wray discussed a variety of topics, including th

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As part of the scheme, Feeding Our Future employees allegedly recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota.

These sites, created and operated by the defendants and others, fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed. The defendants allegedly created dozens of shell companies to enroll in the program as Federal Child Nutrition Program sites. The defendants allegedly created shell companies to receive and launder the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme.

The Justice Department said the defendants also created and submitted false documentation. They submitted fraudulent meal count sheets purporting to document the number of children and meals served at each site, and fake attendance rosters with fake names purporting to list the names and ages of the children receiving meals at the sites each day.

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The Justice Department said in total, Feeding Our Future opened more than 250 sites throughout the state of Minnesota and fraudulently obtained and disbursed more than $240 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

“Exploiting a government program intended to feed children at the time of a national crisis is the epitome of greed,” Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell of the IRS Criminal Investigation from the Chicago Field Office said. “As alleged, the defendants charged in this case chose to enrich themselves at the expense of children. Instead of feeding the future, they chose to steal from the future. IRS – Criminal Investigation is pleased to join our law enforcement partners to hold these defendants accountable.”

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