Feeding our future: DOJ charges 47 people with stealing $250 million from pandemic meal program



CNN

The Justice Department announced charges Tuesday against 47 people accused of stealing $250 million from a federal program designed to provide meals to needy children during the pandemic.

According to the department, the scheme is the largest fraud related to Covid-19 that investigators have uncovered to date. The defendants face a variety of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.

The defendants, prosecutors said, created a network of shell companies linked to the Minnesota-based nonprofit Feeding our Future to exploit the federal child nutrition program, which is designed to provide meals to children from low-income families. The program was expanded by Congress at the start of the pandemic to allow more organizations to participate.

“Feeding Our Future staff recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota,” the Department of Justice said in a statement. “These sites, created and operated by the defendants and others, fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within weeks of their establishment.”

The Justice Department says that although Feeding Our Future was aware of its fraudulent claims, it forwarded them to the Minnesota Department of Education, which administers and oversees the state’s federal program.

“This was a brazen scheme of monstrous proportions,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota. “These defendants exploited a program designed to provide nutritious food to needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they put their own greed first, stealing more than a quarter of a billion dollars to buy luxury cars, houses, jewelry and coastal resort property overseas.

“The company went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million to sites under its protection in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021,” reads part of the indictment. “In total, Feeding Our Future fraudulently obtained and disbursed more than $240 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds during the Covid-19 pandemic,” it continued.

Prosecutors alleged that the defendants feed thousands of children a day. To keep up the ruse, the defendants allegedly submitted fake bills for the food served to the children and lists of fake names to show who was being fed.

Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Education provided “false assurances” that Feeding Our Future claimed to serve meals after the department “attempted to conduct necessary oversight of the number of sites submitted and the number of claims,” ​​according to the DOJ.

According to prosecutors, the defendants used the proceeds of the scheme to buy real estate in Minnesota, Kenya and Turkey, luxury cars, jewelry, finance international travel and more.

Speaking at a news conference on Tuesday, Luger said an unspecified number of people were arrested this morning, but some of the defendants are not in the US.

This story has been updated with additional details.