By Brendan Pierson
(Reuters) – Federal prosecutors on Tuesday unveiled criminal charges against 47 people they accuse of stealing more about $250 million from a federal aid program meant to help feed children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Department of Justice said that the scheme, which centered on the Minnesota non-profit organization Feeding Our Future, was the largest fraud linked to pandemic relief programs yet uncovered. Feeding Our Future founder Aimee Bock, 41, is among those charged.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew 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.”
Feeding Our Future could not immediately be reached for comment.
Prosecutors said participants in the scheme submitted fraudulent documentation to a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded program aimed at providing meals to needy children, which was expanded during the pandemic. The USDA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
While falsely claiming to be using the money to buy food and run distribution sites, the defendants, who include food service business owners and others, kept the money for themselves, spending it on luxury cars, real estate and jewelry, according to prosecutors.
Defendants created dozens of shell companies to run the fake food distribution sites and to launder the proceeds of the scheme, prosecutors said.