A nonprofit group received millions in federal funds intended to nourish low-income children. But prosecutors say little went to feed needy kids. Instead, dishonest brokers squandered the money. U.S. prosecutors call the meal scam the largest pandemic-related fraud in the country.
The Department of Justice has charged 48 people in a $250-million scheme to defraud a federal meals program. The people targeted federal child nutrition programs that provide free meals to low-income children and adults.
Feeding Our Future was formed in 2016. The nonprofit group helped poor and minority communities secure federal food program funding. It quickly became the largest independent sponsor of such programs in Minnesota.
Money for nutrition programs like Feeding Our Future’s comes from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). In Minnesota, the state Department of Education oversees handing out those federal funds.
During the pandemic, officials relaxed requirements for receiving funds. One change allowed food to be distributed outside of the usual school and daycare centers.
That loophole allowed some deceitful people devised a plan to exploit the rules—and steal tens of millions of dollars.
U.S. Attorney Andy Luger says Feeding Our Future employees recruited groups to open program sites across Minnesota. Those groups exaggerated the number of children and meals they were serving. Some submitted fake attendance rosters. The lists gave names and ages of children supposedly being fed. Some didn’t serve any meals at all!
The FBI says one company sponsored by Feeding Our Future claimed to be serving meals to 300 kids per day in January 2021. Just one month later, the group claimed it was providing daily meals for 3,290 children.
In addition to getting reimbursed for food they never served, Feeding Our Future also received an administrative fee and kickbacks from those who participated in the money-skimming scam.
Prosecutors say almost none of the money received ever went to feed children. Instead, fraudsters used it to buy luxury items including a half-million-dollar apartment in Kenya, lakeside homes in Minnesota, and expensive trips.
The Minnesota Department of Education suspected the rising reimbursements and the number of sites sponsored by Feeding Our Future. The department began closer inspections and eventually alerted the FBI. By then, millions of dollars had already evaporated.
In fact, an FBI affidavit traces the nonprofit’s rising reimbursements: $307,000 in 2018; $3.45 million in 2019; $42.7 million in 2020; and $197.9 million in 2021.
Under FBI investigation, Feeding Our Future dissolved in February. Founder Aimee Bock insists she never stole money and saw no evidence of fraud among her subcontractors.
Minnesota Governor Tim Walz insists there “needs to be a review” of why the USDA didn’t take the state’s early concerns seriously—and why it took so long to end the scam.
Why? Might stealing money and food from needy children fall under the curse of Matthew 25:41-46 for those who did not clothe or feed the least of one’s brothers or sisters?