DOJ charges 47 defendants over alleged $250 million pandemic scheme
The Department of Justice unveiled 47 charges related to an alleged $250 million scheme in Minnesota that affected a federal child nutrition program during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Why it matters: Justice Department officials said in a press conference Tuesday it's the largest coronavirus pandemic-related fraud case brought by the department so far.
- It alleged that 47 defendants defrauded the Department of Agriculture's Federal Child Nutrition Program by laundering money meant to be used as reimbursements for the cost of serving meals to children during the pandemic.
- They were charged with conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery across six separate indictments and three criminal informations.
The big picture: The department alleged the scheme was perpetuated by Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit organization and a sponsor participating in the program.
- It claimed the organization recruited other defendants to open more than 250 Child Nutrition Program sites across Minnesota, which went on to fraudulently report serving thousands of meals to children every day within days or weeks of being formed.
- The organization then allegedly laundered the money that was intended to be reimbursements for the meal through shell companies.
- U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger for the District of Minnesota claimed the defendants spent the laundered money on luxury cars, houses, jewelry and foreign coastal resort property.
What they're saying: “These indictments, alleging the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date, underscore the Department of Justice’s sustained commitment to combating pandemic fraud and holding accountable those who perpetrate it,” Attorney General Merrick Garland said in a statement.
- "The defendants went to great lengths to exploit a program designed to feed underserved children in Minnesota amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulently diverting millions of dollars designated for the program for their own personal gain," FBI Director Christopher Wray said in a statement.
The other side: Aimee Bock, Feeding Our Future's executive director, has previously denied allegations that her organization was involved in fraud in comments to news outlets, including the Star Tribune and Sahan Journal.
- Bock's attorney did not immediately respond to Axios' request for comment.
- "An indictment does not signify guilty or innocence. It’s the beginning of the criminal process. I’m surprised that Ms. Bock has been indicted because she did nothing worthy of a criminal indictment," the attorney, Kenneth Udoibok, told Minnesota Public Radio on Tuesday.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional reporting.