The Department of Justice announced on Tuesday that 47 defendants had been charged for allegedly defrauding a federal program that provided food for needy children during the pandemic.
The agency said the scheme, which totaled $250 million, is the largest ever uncovered and that it targeted the government’s generous stimulus aid, the Washington Post reported.
Federal prosecutors accused a network of individuals and organizations linked to the Minnesota-based nonprofit, Feeding Our Future of wrongly obtaining federal pandemic funds and using the funds towards luxury cars, houses, and other personal purchases in what amounted to a case of “brazen” theft.
“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 in a statement.
The purported scheme centered on the Federal Child Nutrition Program, which provides free meals to children of lower-income families. During the pandemic, Congress greatly expanded the program by allowing a wider array of organizations to distribute food at a more extensive range of locations.
Following the changes to the federal law, Feeding Our Future played a more significant role in giving out meals, the Justice Department said, and the group disbursed more than $200 million last year. However, federal prosecutors claim the company’s founder and executive director, Aimee Bock, oversaw a vast fraud scheme across Minnesota.
Bock is accused of recruiting individuals and companies that “fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day,” prosecutors continued. Some of the defendants listed also created shell companies to enroll in the program to serve as sites for meal distribution. In other cases, the agency claims defendants submitted the names of fake kids and then obtained meals and fraudulent invoices for food purchases that never occurred.
Feeding Our Future ultimately reaped $18 million in administrative fees, fees the government says 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.