They stole 250 million dollars intended to feed low-income children

The fraudulent scheme that stole US$250 million intended to feed children. Photo: Getty Images
  • At least 47 people from a charity are involved

  • They spent the money on luxury cars and real estate

  • They created dozens of fictitious companies so that the money ended up in their hands

In what has been described as the “largest” Covid-19 aid scheme to date, nearly fifty people were charged in Minnesota with stealing nearly $250 million that were intended to feed children affected by the pandemic. .

The colossal sum of money was part of a federal program that sought to help vulnerable students in the city of Minneapolis, but was diverted and squandered on high-end cars and lavish real estate.

According to a press release from the United States Department of Justice, at least 47 people belonging to a charity managed to take advantage and profit from the relaxation of some rules and supervision mechanisms during the pandemic.

“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportionssaid Andrew Luger, United States Attorney for the District of Minnesota.

Prosecutors allege that the organization Feeding Our Future (Feeding Our Future) took advantage of the fact that student meal assistance programs began to operate outside of school facilities, as well as the participation of for-profit restaurants.

They bought luxury properties with lists of names taken from the Internet

Aimee Bock, founder and director of the charity, was accused of recruiting a network of people and organizations to operate up to 250 fraudulent food assistance sites. Instead, she put the money toward vehicles and real estate in Minnesota, Ohio, Kentucky, and even as far away as Kenya and Turkey.

“These sites fraudulently claimed they were serving meals to thousands of children a day, within days or weeks of being trained,” prosecutors said. To do this, they created fraudulent invoices for purchases of food, and even attendance sheets with false names of the children supposedly cared for.

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Since these were not actual recipients, at least one of those documents was created with names from a website called readyfrandomnames.com (list of random names, in English).

The 47 implicated, who were brought forward in three separate indictments, include Bock and his employee, Abdikerm Abdelahi Eidleh, as well as 45 others for helping run fraudulent sites as part of the scheme.

“These indictments, alleging the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme brought to date, underscore the Justice Department’s sustained commitment to combating pandemic fraud and holding accountable those who perpetrate it,” said Attorney General Merrick B. Garland.

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One senior FBI agent with protective mask working on the computer in the office. Fight against coronavirus.

The FBI described the situation as “a heinous plot”. Photo: Getty Images

The FBI took action on the matter

In partnership with agencies across the government, the Justice Department pledged that it “will continue to bring to justice those who have taken advantage of the pandemic for personal gain and stolen from American taxpayers.”

FBI Director Christopher Wray described the situation as “a heinous plot”, where the defendants “did everything possible to exploit a program designed to feed neglected children” and low-income adults.

These charges will send the message that the FBI and its law enforcement partners “remain vigilant and will vigorously pursue those who attempt to enrich themselves through fraudulent means,” he added.

Taxpayers’ money went toluxury cars, houses, jewelry and coastal tourist properties abroad”, detailed prosecutor Luger, who described the case as “very complex”.

The 47 defendants face charges in six separate indictments and three criminal reports of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery.

This is how they made the robbery

In Minnesota, the funds are administered by the state Department of Education, and historically, meals have been provided to children through educational programs, such as schools or daycare centers.

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

As part of the scheme, Feeding Our Future employees recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota. They created dozens of shell companies to sign up for the program as Federal Child Nutrition Program sites. The defendants also created shell companies to receive and launder the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme.

Quoted by the AP, Bock’s attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, said he would not comment until he had a chance to see the indictment, but that the indictment “does not indicate guilt or innocence.”

In an interview in January, after police searched his home and offices, among other places, Bock denied stealing any money and said he never saw evidence of fraud.

The sites that serve the food are sponsored by public or nonprofit groups, such as Feeding Our Future. The sponsoring agency keeps 10% to 15% of the funds reimbursement as an administrative fee in exchange for submitting claims, sponsoring the sites and disbursing the funds.

Losses greater than US$1.1 billion

Earlier this year, the Justice Department made it a priority to prosecute pandemic-related fraud. The department has already taken enforcement action related to more than $8 billion in suspected pandemic fraud, including filing charges in more than 1,000 criminal cases involving losses in excess of $1.1 billion.

During the pandemic, some of the standard requirements for sites to participate in federal food nutrition programs were lifted. Among them, the USDA allowed for-profit restaurants to participate and allowed food distribution outside of educational programs.

Luger said the scheme involved more than 125 million fake mealsand showed a reimbursement form that claimed that a site served exactly 2,500 meals every day from Monday to Friday, without a single child getting sick or missing the program.

These kids were just made up”, said Luger, who assured that the government has so far recovered US$50 million in money and property and hopes to recover more.

Court documents say the Minnesota Department of Education was increasingly concerned about the rapid increase in the number of sites sponsored by Feeding Our Future, as well as the increase in refunds.

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The article is in Spanish

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