The United States is accused of "brazen" theft of $ 250 million from the Epidemiological Food Program

The United States is accused of “brazen” theft of $ 250 million from the Epidemiological Food Program

The Justice Department indicted 47 defendants on Tuesday for allegedly defrauding a federal program that provides food to children in need during the pandemic, describing the scheme — which totals about $250 million — as the largest uncovered to date targeting trillions in government aid.

Federal prosecutors said that in some cases the defendants — a network of individuals and organizations linked to Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit operating in Minnesota — obtained federal pandemic-fighting funds in the names of children who weren’t around, and then spent that money on cars, luxury homes, and purchases. The other character.

The Justice Department said the defendants relied on a complex web of shell companies and kickbacks to corrupt the government. In a particularly startling example, a participant allegedly created a list of the fake children he supposedly served them meals, filled with names drawn from the website listofrandomnames.com. The government accused others of fabricating spreadsheets with invented ages or falsifying their invoices, all in pursuit of federal criticism.

Once they had the money, some of the defendants bought “homes in Minnesota, resorts and real estate in Kenya and Turkey, luxury cars, commercial properties, jewelry, and much more,” according to Andrew M. Luger, US. Minnesota District Attorney, who briefed reporters on the case on Tuesday.

The scale of the scheme, which drains money for hungry children, has repeatedly led the Department of Justice to describe the theft as “rude.” The admission underscored the enormous challenge federal prosecutors have faced in monitoring approved spending since the start of the pandemic — all while prosecuting criminals who treated aid as potential windfall.

“These indictments, alleging the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme indicted to date, underscore the Department of Justice’s continued commitment to combating pandemic fraud and holding perpetrators to account,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.

Our future feed cannot be reached for comment. A call to a phone number listed on its website could not be completed, and a lawyer representing the organization in related lawsuits did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Amy Bock, the nonprofit’s founder and CEO, has previously denied any wrongdoing.

Federal food aid is an important part of the nearly $5 trillion in emergency spending that Congress has embraced since 2020. The money helped rescue the economy from the worst crisis since the Great Depression, shooting millions of Americans while helping workers find jobs and businesses remain. afloat. But the money also opened the door to billions of dollars in waste, fraud and misuse, the scale of which is starting to show. The Washington Post explores the problem in a year-long investigation titled The Covid Money Trail.

By targeting unemployment insurance, seasoned criminals have repeatedly stolen the identities of innocent Americans, potentially draining much-needed unemployment assistance of more than $160 billion. Similar plans targeted the nearly $1 trillion in aid administered by the Small Business Administration, which provided loans and grants to businesses that did not exist, and should not have qualified for the aid or appeared to be operating abroad.

In other cases, insufficient federal oversight and lax software rules have led to problems. Several Republican-led states, for example, have tried to put their allocations under a $350 billion aid program in favor of political projects, such as tax cuts and immigration crackdowns. Still, another federal initiative to retrain veterans saw only 397 find new jobs, a far cry from what lawmakers had hoped.



Covid money trail


This was the biggest explosion of emergency spending in US history: two years, six bills and more than $5 trillion aimed at breaking the deadly grip of the coronavirus pandemic. The money saved the American economy from ruin and put vaccines into millions of guns, but it also led to unprecedented levels of fraud, abuse, and opportunism.

In a year-long investigation, The Washington Post is following the money-hungry trail to find out what happened to all that money.

Read more

The plan surfaced by the Justice Department on Tuesday focused on the Federal Child Nutrition Program, run by the Department of Agriculture to provide free meals to children in low-income families. The program essentially functions as a broad network of networks: nonprofits and other organizations provide meals or contract vendors to do so, and they are compensated by the states, using funds from the federal government.

In response to the pandemic, the US government has made it easier for a larger group of providers involved in the baby feeding program – and for these entities, to provide meals in a wide variety of locations. The amendments aimed to help more families get food, especially when schools closed and were unable to offer free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch as usual.

But changes in federal law may have paved the way for rampant abuses. Prosecutors said the organization acted as an intermediary with Feeding Our Future. As a “sponsor,” she submitted applications for new meal delivery sites to Minnesota to participate in the federal program. She then oversaw the meal distribution, filed state claims for damages and returned the federal funds to her partners, according to the Justice Department. The nonprofit also collected management fees from the payments.

Prosecutors claim that from this powerful position, the leader of the non-profit organization, Bock, eventually oversaw a “massive fraud scheme carried out by sites under his auspices” – allegedly involving dozens of individuals, some at her job, and shell companies operating across the state. In total, Feeding Our Future has opened more than 250 locations in Minnesota, according to the government.

According to the government, one of the entities sponsored by her organization, known as ASA Limited, repeatedly provided false records about the number of children she gave free meals. In September 2021, for example, a defendant associated with the company filled out a spreadsheet with a formula that produced a random number between 7 and 17 in the age column of thousands of children.

“Bock and Feed Our Future Teach [the state’s] The concerns were valid, and that little of the Federal Child Feeding Program money that was spent by Feeding Our Future was being used to feed the children,” the Department of Justice claimed.

In these and dozens of other cases, federal prosecutors said, Bock failed to conduct proper oversight or lied about it — and then sought to distract government regulators who tried to keep a close eye on it.

Minnesota officials began investigating Feeding Our Future in 2020, once officials began registering their concerns about the large number of meals that sponsored sites claimed to serve. But a previous attempt to refuse payments to the organization ultimately failed, allowing its network to continue receiving federal aid.

Facing new scrutiny, Bock at one point sued the Minnesota Department of Education, which oversees the state’s implementation of the meal program, accusing it of “racial animosity.” For its part, the FBI conducted a series of raids in January.

On Tuesday, federal law enforcement officials stressed that they continue To investigate alleged fraud in Minnesota and other attempts to raise money from a program aimed at helping starving children.

FBI Director Christopher A. statement.

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