US largest pandemic fraud: Over $250 million meant for children feeding program stolen

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MINNESOTA, (GO) - U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has unearthed the largest COVID-19 pandemic fraud in the country. Over 47 people face federal charges for defrauding a federal child nutrition program, $250 million meant to provide meals to low-income children.

It has emerged that the defendants created companies that claimed to offer food to tens of thousands of children across Minnesota, then sought reimbursement for those meals through the US Agriculture Department's food nutrition programs.

"Their goal was to make as much money for themselves as they could while falsely claiming to feed children during the pandemic," Luger said. "As alleged in these indictments, over a short period of time, these 47 defendants engaged in a brazen scheme of staggering proportions. “Luger reveals.

The prosecutors have revealed that few meals were served, and the defendants used the money to purchase luxury cars, houses, resort property, and jewelry.

According to court documents nonprofit called Feeding, Our Future, based in Minnesota, redirected money provided by the Federal Child Nutrition Program, administered by the Agriculture Department, to provide free meals to children in need.

Many companies that claimed to be serving food were sponsored by the nonprofit, which submitted the companies' fraudulent claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks.

Erica MacDonald, the former U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, told WCCO."During the pandemic, once we sent all those kids home and shut down the schools, the kids weren't at school. That enabled a fraud scheme like this to thrive because people could not question whether kids were receiving food or could not ask or raise a red flag had the children been in school" "The (lack of) site visit was a really important one. We're talking about this alleged scheme and reporting children that didn't exist." 

Mr. Luger also accused the defendants of creating shell companies to receive and launder the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme.

Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the local nonprofit, was the mastermind strategist for the fraud operations whose federal aid disbursements increased from $3.4 million in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.

The organization, according to court records, "fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed."

When the Minnesota Department of Education sought to verify the nonprofit's activities, Bock "gave false assurances" that the organization was monitoring its 250 sites across the state and was serving the meals as claimed, prosecutors said.

Kenneth Udoibok, Bock’s attorney, however, said the indictment "Doesn't indicate guilt or innocence." He said he wouldn't comment further until seeing the charge.

Bock, however, allegedly thought it was at least possible to create the illusion that it could happen by exploiting the U.S. government's relaxing of program requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Those included allowing for-profit restaurants to participate in making meals for kids; food was also allowed to be distributed outside educational programs.

The state of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison released the following statement regarding fraud allegations against those connected to Feeding Our Future.

"I congratulate the Department of Justice and U.S. Attorney Andy Luger on this criminal indictment. The scope of the fraud the government alleges is breathtaking and immoral. The federal government has original criminal jurisdiction over this matter. Because the alleged fraud involves federal funds, it is right and appropriate for federal prosecutors to bring criminal charges. I applaud them for doing so.

"As the chief regulator of charities in Minnesota, my civil investigation into whether Feeding Our Future broke any of Minnesota's nonprofit or charities laws continues. I am also keeping a close eye on the dissolution of Feeding Our Future, proceeding under court supervision after I asked the court to supervise it. I am also proud of the work of my office in representing the Minnesota Department of Education when it tried to stop payment to Feeding Our Future in court and subsequently first alerted the federal government to the fraud, which led to today's indictments.

"I will hold bad actors accountable everywhere, no matter who they are or how well connected they may be."

GAROWE ONLINE  

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