DOJ Charges 47 People with $250 million Theft from Pandemic Food Program

Ivy Lagarto, Design Editor

On Sept. 20, The Department of Justice announced federal charges against 47 people accused of defrauding a federal program designed to give meals to underprivileged children during the pandemic. The scheme amounted to a total of $250 million, a conspiracy that Attorney General Merrick B. Garland describes as the most extensive uncovered scheme involving the government’s stimulus aid.

The alleged scheme targeted the Federal Child Nutrition Program, organized by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to provide free meals to children in need. This program functions through the distribution of funds to state governments from the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service. The defrauding occurred in Minnesota, where the Minnesota Department of Education oversees the program. Meals provided by the program are served on “sites” that must be sponsored by an authorized organization. These sponsors are responsible for supervising the sites and arranging reimbursement claims, which are then federally reimbursed by the (USDA).

In response to the pandemic, the USDA modified standard requirements for participation in the Federal Child Nutrition Program, allowing for more parties to partake in the program. Amongst these modifications included the allowance of non-profit restaurants and off-site food distribution to children. However, these changes in policies and the expansion of the program opened the system to fraud.

Federal prosecutors refer to the scheme as “brazen,” stating that employees involved opened various program sites throughout Minnesota. Multiple companies were created in a network under the Minnesota-based nonprofit, “Feeding our Future”, to register for the program and assist in laundering the fraudulent money. False documentation also played a role in the plan as employees submitted false invoices, meal count sheets and fabricated attendance rosters with online-generated names. 

Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of Feeding our Future, allegedly oversaw the scheme. Bock and 46 others currently face charges and six separate indictments ranging from conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery. The 47 individuals reportedly used the intended reimbursement money for luxury cars, properties abroad, houses and jewelry.