U.S. charges ‘brazen’ theft of $250 million from pandemic food program

The Justice Department on Tuesday accused 47 defendants of allegedly defrauding a federal program that provided food to children in need during the pandemic, describing the program — totaling $250 million — as the largest uncovered to date and on the most generous government stimulus aid.

Federal prosecutors said the defendants — a network of individuals and organizations affiliated with Feeding Our Future, a Minnesota-based nonprofit — allegedly used wrongfully received federal pandemic funds for luxury cars, homes and other personal purchases, causing one Case of “brazen” equaled ” theft.

“These indictments, which allege the largest pandemic aid fraud scheme ever indicted, underscore the Justice Department’s continued commitment to fighting pandemic fraud and holding those perpetrators accountable,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

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The alleged scheme focused on the Federal Child Nutrition Program, administered by the Department of Agriculture to provide free meals to children from low-income families. Congress expanded the program significantly over the course of the pandemic, including allowing a wider range of organizations to distribute food to a wider variety of locations.

The federal law changes opened the door for Feeding Our Future to play a bigger role in meal distribution, the Justice Department claims, and the group paid out more than $200 million during 2021 to the company’s founder and CEO , Aimee Bock, oversaw a massive fraud scheme across Minnesota.

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The company could not be immediately reached for comment on Tuesday.

The Covid money trail

It was the largest outbreak of emergency spending in US history: two years, six laws and more than $5 trillion to break the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money has saved the US economy from bankruptcy and fed vaccines to millions of guns, but it has also fueled an unprecedented level of fraud, abuse and opportunism.

In a year-long investigation, the Washington Post is tracking the Covid money to find out what happened to all the money.

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Bock recruited individuals and companies who “fraudulently claimed to serve meals to thousands of children every day,” prosecutors allege. Some of the defendants set up shell companies to sign up for the scheme and serve as meal distribution sites, according to the government. In other cases, the Justice Department alleges that the defendants submitted the names of fake children who received meals and false bills for grocery purchases that never took place.

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Feeding Our Future ended up collecting $18 million in management fees, which the government said it was “not entitled” to receive. The company’s employees also appeared to be soliciting “bribes and kickbacks” from individuals and companies it has sponsored, the government says.

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