ACFE Community Manager
The Justice Department charged 47 defendants on September 20th for allegedly defrauding a federal program that provided food for needy children during the pandemic, describing the scheme — totaling nearly $250 million — as the largest uncovered to date. The charges also underscore that criminals have been quick to take advantage of new programs set up by the U.S. government to curb fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and they’re exploiting weaknesses in systems designed to quickly distribute funds.
The indictments announced Tuesday involve six groups and one individual, all connected to a Minnesota nonprofit called Feeding Our Future. The defendants are charged with federal crimes including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and paying or receiving illegal kickbacks. The DOJ alleges that Aimee Bock, the founder of Feeding Our Future in Apple Valley, Minnesota — which actually did serve federally funded meals to underserved kids before the pandemic struck — masterminded the plot. According to the DOJ, Bock recruited other individuals to create websites falsely claiming they were sponsored by her group. The sites purported that donations would be used to feed needy children — but no such donation receipt records could ever be found when federal agents investigated this allegation.
Records show that Feeding Our Future’s disbursements grew from approximately $3.4 million in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” said Andrew M. Luger, U.S. Attorney 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 prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in federal funds to purchase luxury cars, houses, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad.”
The theft of $250 million from the food program is a serious crime, but it is also just one more example of how fraud and corruption threaten our world’s ability to meet the needs of its people.
SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners