Federal authorities charged 47 people in Minnesota with conspiracy and other counts in a scheme to steal “$250 million from a federal program that provides meals to low-income children,” reports the Associated Press.
Prosecutors allege the defendants created companies that claimed to be offering food to children across Minnesota, then sought reimbursement for those meals through the Department of Agriculture’s food nutrition programs.
“This $250 million is the floor,” Andy Luger, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, said at a news conference. “Our investigation continues.”
The AP reports that many of the companies that claimed to be serving food were sponsored by a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future, which submitted the companies’ claims for reimbursement. Authorities say those involved with Feeding Our Future submitted the fraudulent claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks.
The charging documents say that Feeding Our Future sponsored the opening of nearly 200 federal child nutrition program sites throughout Minnesota, knowing that the sites intended to submit fraudulent claims.
“The sites fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed and despite having few, if any staff and little to no experience serving this volume of meals,” according to the indictments.
The Justice Department alleges that one defendant created a list of fake children who supposedly had received meals; the names were generated from the website “listofrandomnames.com.”
“Feeding Our Future knew [the state’s] concerns were valid, and that little of the Federal Child Nutrition Program funds disbursed by Feeding Our Future were used to feed children,” the Justice Department stated.
Some of the defendants used the money they gained to buy “houses in Minnesota, resort property and real estate in Kenya and Turkey, luxury cars, commercial property, jewelry, and much more,” according to Luger.
“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,” said Attorney General Merrick Garland.
Luger said the government has recovered $50 million in money and property and expects to recover more.