48 exploited pandemic to steal $250M from food program, Feds report

The greatest pandemic-related fraud operation to far, according to US officials, included the theft of $250 million from a government program that distributes meals to low-income children. 48 individuals were charged in Minnesota with conspiracy and other offenses on Tuesday.

According to federal prosecutors, the defendants set up businesses that represented themselves as providing food to tens of thousands of kids across Minnesota, then applied for payment for those meals via the food assistance programs run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Few meals were ever given, according to the prosecution, and the defendants used the money to purchase expensive vehicles, real estate, and jewelry.

The US attorney for Minnesota, Andy Luger, said during a press conference that “this $250 million is the bottom.” “Our inquiry is ongoing.”

A lot of the businesses who advertised that they were providing meals were supported by the charity Feeding Our Future, which filed the businesses’ claims for payment. Aimee Bock, the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, was one of the individuals charged; according to the prosecution, she and other members of her organization filed the false claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks.

Kenneth Udoibok, Bock’s attorney, said that the indictment “doesn’t suggest guilt or innocence.” He indicated he would reserve further comment until he had seen the indictment.

Bock denied taking money and said she never saw proof of fraud in interviews conducted after law enforcement investigated many locations in January, including Bock’s home in Rosemount and businesses in St. Anthony.

The U.S. Department of Justice designated pandemic-related fraud prosecution a top priority earlier this year. The agency has already brought charges in more than 1,000 criminal instances involving losses more than $1.1 billion as part of its enforcement operations connected to more than $8 billion in potential pandemic fraud.

Officials from the federal government condemned the suspected deception, calling it “brazen,” and said it concerned a program meant to feed kids who needed assistance during the epidemic. The Minneapolis FBI office’s special agent in charge, Michael Paul, described it as “an astounding exhibition of dishonesty.”

According to Luger, the government received invoices for more than 125 million fictitious meals, with some offenders inventing child’s identities using an online random name generator. He showed a paper for compensation that stated a location provided precisely 2,500 meals each day, Monday through Friday, without ever having any children absent due to illness or any other reason.

These kids were all made up, Luger stated.

He said that the government has so far obtained $50 million in cash and assets and anticipates obtaining more.

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