According to the department, the scheme is the largest Covid-19-related fraud discovered by investigators to date. The defendants face a range of charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and paying and receiving illegal bribes.
The defendants, prosecutors said, set up a network of front companies linked to the Minnesota-based nonprofit Feeding our Future to operate the federal infant nutrition program, designed to provide meals to children of low-income families. The program was expanded by Congress at the start of the pandemic to allow more organizations to participate.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota. “These defendants operated a program designed to provide nutritious food to children in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter of a billion federal funds dollars to buy luxury cars, homes, jewelry, and coastal resort property overseas.”
The defendants claimed to feed thousands of children a day, prosecutors said. To continue the ruse, the defendants allegedly submitted fake invoices for food served to children and lists of fake names to show who was being fed.
According to prosecutors, the defendants used the proceeds of the scheme to buy real estate in Minnesota, Kenya and Turkey, luxury cars, jewelry, to fund international travel and more.