WASHINGTON – Federal authorities unveiled charges against 47 people accused of siphoning $250 million from a coronavirus pandemic relief program designed to provide meals for children in the largest pandemic-related fraud scheme brought so far by the Justice Department.
Prosecutors described “a brazen scheme of staggering proportions” that exploited a federally funded program to serve needy children in Minnesota during the pandemic.
U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger, the chief federal prosecutor in Minnesota, said the suspects used a local non-profit known as “Feeding Our Future” as cover to claim reimbursements for meals never provided, and allegedly used the federal money to buy luxury cars, houses, jewelry and 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,” Luger said.
Attorney General Merrick Garland described the federal action as the most extensive fraud case to emerge from the government’s massive pandemic relief effort.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said the allegations represented “an egregious plot” led by suspects who “went to great lengths” to divert a quarter of a billion dollars.
The Minnesota non-profit, according to court documents, redirected money provided by the Federal Child Nutrition Program, administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture , to provide free meals to children in need.
Federal prosecutors said the operation was allegedly overseen by Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the local non-profit, whose federal aid disbursements dramatically 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.”
“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,” prosecutors said.