The United States Department of Justice (DOJ) announced on Sept. 20 charges against 47 people accused of stealing $250 million from a federal program designed to feed needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota.
Federal prosecutors charged the defendants with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery in what the DOJ described as the largest COVID-19-related fraud uncovered by investigators to date.
According to the DOJ, the defendants set up a network of shell companies connected to Feeding Our Future, a Minnesota-based nonprofit organization that was a sponsor in the Federal Child Nutrition Program.
Feeding Our Future recruited individuals and entities to open up over 250 sites across Minnesota and falsely claimed to serve meals to thousands of children, the DOJ alleged.
The defendants submitted false documentation, including fraudulent meal count sheets, false invoices, and fake attendance rosters, according to the indictments.
The DOJ said that despite Feeding Our Future knowing its own fraudulent claims, it submitted them to the Minnesota Department of Education, which administered and oversaw the program, and disbursed the funds to those involved in the scheme.
Feeding Our Future employees also received bribes and kickbacks from the food sites in exchange for steering them federal grants.
The prosecutors alleged that the defendants used the proceeds of their scheme to buy luxury vehicles and real estate in Minnesota, Kenya, and Turkey and to fund international travel.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger said.
Luger said at a press conference that authorities arrested an unspecified number of people on Sept. 20 morning, but some defendants were not presently in the country.
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