DOJ Charges 47 for Allegedly Stealing $250 Million From COVID Pandemic Program for Children

By Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips
Jack Phillips
Breaking News Reporter
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.
September 21, 2022 Updated: September 22, 2022

The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Tuesday charged dozens of people for allegedly stealing $250 million from the federal government as part of a fraudulent scheme to exploit a COVID-19 foods program in Minnesota, according to Attorney General Merrick Garland.

In all, 47 people were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery, according to a DOJ indictment.

Federal prosecutors say the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to tens of thousands of children across Minnesota before they sought reimbursement for those meals through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s food nutrition programs. The programs were designed to provide food to kids during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the DOJ.

But prosecutors say that few meals were actually served, and the defendants used the money to buy luxury cars, homes, coastal resort property overseas, and jewelry.

“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota said in a statement. “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.”

A number of the firms that were alleged to be providing food were sponsored by the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, which obtained the reimbursement claims from the USDA, prosecutors said. The founder and chief executive of the nonprofit, Aimee Bock, was among the individuals who were indicted Tuesday.

Bock’s attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, told The Associated Press that the DOJ indictment “doesn’t indicate guilt or innocence.” He would not offer further comment on the case.

Another lawyer for Bock told the BBC that “we have maintained our innocence from the first day,” adding that the indictment was “merely the beginning of the criminal process” and represented a “mere allegation.”

Examples

One example described a small storefront restaurant in Willmar, in west-central Minnesota, that typically served only a few dozen people a day.

Two defendants offered the owner $40,000 a month to use his restaurant, then billed the government for some 1.6 million meals through 11 months of 2021, according to one indictment. They listed the names of around 2,000 children—nearly half of the local school district’s total enrollment—and only 33 names matched actual students, the indictment said.

Feeding Our Future received nearly $18 million in federal child nutrition program funds as administrative fees in 2021 alone, and Bock and other employees received additional kickbacks, which were often disguised as “consulting fees” paid to shell companies, the charging documents said.

In March, the DOJ said it has brought more than 1,000 cases involving pandemic-related fraud.

With Tuesday’s indictments, Attorney General Merrick Garland said the DOJ would continue to  “bring to justice those who have exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stolen from American taxpayers.”

“These charges send the message that the FBI and our law enforcement partners remain vigilant and will vigorously pursue those who attempt to enrich themselves through fraudulent means,” FBI Director Christopher Wray said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jack Phillips
Breaking News Reporter
Jack Phillips is a breaking news reporter at The Epoch Times based in New York.