The Department of Justice announced charges on Tuesday in a $250 million fraud scheme that exploited a federal program aimed at feeding needy children during the pandemic.
Forty-seven defendants were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery in the Minnesota operation the government described as “the largest COVID-19 fraud scheme in the nation.”
[T]he defendants devised and carried out a massive scheme to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program. 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. The defendants exploited changes in the program intended to ensure underserved children received adequate nutrition during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather than feed children, the defendants enriched themselves by fraudulently misappropriating millions of dollars in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds. […]
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the USDA waived some of the standard requirements for participation in the Federal Child Nutrition Program. Among other things, the USDA allowed for-profit restaurants to participate in the program, as well as allowed for off-site food distribution to children outside of educational programs.
Aimee Bock was 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. Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.
As part of the charged scheme, Feeding Our Future employees 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 created dozens of shell companies to enroll in the program as Federal Child Nutrition Program sites. The defendants also created shell companies to receive and launder the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme.
To carry out the scheme, 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. The defendants submitted false invoices purporting to document the purchase of food to be served to children at the sites. The defendants also submitted fake attendance rosters purporting to list the names and ages of the children receiving meals at the sites each day. These rosters were fabricated and created using fake names. For example, one roster was created using names from a website called “www.listofrandomnames.com.” Because the program only reimbursed for meals served to children, other defendants used an Excel formula to insert a random age between seven and 17 into the age column of the rosters.
Despite knowing the claims were fraudulent, Feeding Our Future submitted the fraudulent claims to MDE and then disbursed the fraudulently obtained Federal Child Nutrition Program funds to the individuals and entities involved in the scheme. (DOJ)
Feeding Our Future carried out the scheme at more than 250 sites across the state, disbursing the $250 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds. The fraudulently obtained money was then used to purchase cars, international travel, and both commercial and residential real estate in the U.S. and abroad.
Many of the defendants have been arrested or turned themselves in, according to prosecutors, though some have left the U.S.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota said in a statement. “These defendants exploited a program designed to provide nutritious food to needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in federal funds to purchase luxury cars, houses, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad. I commend the work of the skilled investigators and prosecutors who unraveled the lies, deception, and mountains of false documentation to bring this complex case to light.”