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DOJ charges 47 with stealing $250 million from a pandemic food program for kids

The U.S. Department of Justice said 47 people devised and carried out a massive scheme to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program out of $250 million.
Yuri Gripas
/
Bloomberg/Getty Images
The U.S. Department of Justice said 47 people devised and carried out a massive scheme to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program out of $250 million.

The Justice Department has unveiled criminal charges against 47 defendants who allegedly cheated the government out of $250 million that was supposed to be used to feed needy kids in Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The DOJ said indictments allege "the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date."

The indictments announced Tuesday involve six groups, all connected to the group Feeding Our Future, a Minnesota nonprofit. The defendants are charged with federal crimes, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.

"Over a short period of time, these 47 defendants engaged in a brazen scheme of staggering proportions," U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said during a news briefing.

The DOJ contends that defendant Aimee Bock of Apple Valley Minnesota was the mastermind behind the plot. Bock is the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, which actually did serve federally funded meals to underserved kids in the Twin Cities prior to the pandemic. According to the DOJ, Bock recruited other individuals to create fake sites and falsely claim they were feeding needy children under her group's sponsorship.

Records show that Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.

The defendants used the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme, according to the DOJ, to purchase luxury vehicles, to fund international travel and to buy residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky and in Kenya and Turkey.

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Vanessa Romo is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers breaking news on a wide range of topics, weighing in daily on everything from immigration and the treatment of migrant children, to a war-crimes trial where a witness claimed he was the actual killer, to an alleged sex cult. She has also covered the occasional cat-clinging-to-the-hood-of-a-car story.