“Largest pandemic relief fraud uncovered to date”

Federal criminal charges have been filed against 47 individuals involved with Minnesota-based charity “Feeding our Future,” who allegedly are involved in a $250 million scheme to exploit a federal program that feeds children.

Within a 20 month period, the charity falsely claimed to donate over 125 million meals and up to 6,000 meals to hungry children everyday.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger called it “a brazen scheme of staggering proportions” and the”largest U.S. pandemic relief fraud uncovered to date.”

(Some might argue otherwise 😉)

Instead of feeding the hungry, they used the charity money to buy luxury cars, homes, jewelry, and property.

Luger said, “These defendants exploited a program designed to provide nutritious food to needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in federal funds to purchase luxury cars, houses, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad.”

Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will “continue to bring justice to people who exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stole from taxpayers.”

Federal prosecutors charged 47 people in Minnesota with allegedly defrauding a federal program meant to feed hungry children out of $250 million.
Federal prosecutors charged 47 people in Minnesota with allegedly defrauding a federal program meant to feed hungry children out of $250 million.Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP

Six separate indictments charged 47 individuals money laundering, bribery, conspiracy, and wire fraud.

Prosecutors allege they misused and laundered millions of dollars in federal funds meant to feed hungry children, exploiting changes made during the pandemic, such as allowing off-site food distribution and allowing for-profit restaurants to participate in the Federal Child Nutrition Program.

Luger said the defendants used the money to purchase luxury vehicles, commercial, and residential real estate in Minnesota, Kentucky, Ohio, Kenya, and Turke to fund international travel.

Feds have seized 60 bank accounts, 45 pieces of property, and 14 vehicles in an ongoing investigation.

Luger said the scheme was rapidly set up in April of 2020, “stealing money at breakneck speed.”

The charity would set up sites to donate meals and then began claiming they were serving thousands of meals, seven days a week, within days to weeks of launching.

The defendants kept the money for themselves, spending very little on food and logistics, according to Luger.

“They were running a scheme, not a child nutrition program,” said Luger.

The indictment alleges that Empire Cuisine and Market LLC claimed to serve millions of meals which allowed them to receive over $40 million to spend on real estate, vehicles, travel, and property in Kenya and Turkey.

The program which was created by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, servedd to provide free meals children in need by granting federal money to state governments.

In Minnesota, the federal funds were administered and overseen by the Minnesota Department of Education.

The Minnesota Department of Education provided funds to sponsoring agencies like the non-profit Feeding Our Future, which then distributed the money to various meal distributors around the state.

Feeding Our Future helped dozens of people defraud the Federal program, according to prosecutors.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger today announces a significant COVID-related fraud case based in Minnesota Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022
US Attorney Andy Luger announces a significant COVID-related fraud case based in Minnesota on Tuesday, Sept. 20, 2022.AP

The Minnesota Department of Education halted funding for Feeding the Future in 2020 after becoming supicious of the large payments…

Minnesota Department of Education officials questioned the legitimacy of the large payments in 2020 and halted funding to Feeding Our Future, but a judge ordered the agency to resume payments after Feeding Our Future filed a lawsuit alleging racial discrimination against the mostly East African clientele.

The Minnesota Department of Education called it a “sham lawsuit.”

Luger said the lawsuit was filed to “keep the money flowing.”

“It was all a lie,” he said.

Prosecutors say dozens of shell companies enrolled in the program to receive and launder their proceeds.

Fake names of children were concocted, some by using a website called www.listofrandomnames.com, Luger said.

Luger said three of the 47 defendants agreed to waive their right to appear before the grand jury and admit their involvements in the scheme.

Andrew Luger, US Attorney for the District of Minnesota, called it a "brazen scheme of staggering proportions."
Andrew Luger, US Attorney for the District of Minnesota, called it a “brazen scheme of staggering proportions.”Glen Stubbe/Star Tribune via AP

Companies in the indictment include:

  • S & S Catering Inc., which received over $18 million, spending some of it on vehicles and real estate.
  • Haji’s Kitchen LLC got more than $25 million and used some for vehicles, real estate, and travel.
  • The owner of Community Enhancement Services Inc. and other co-conspirators opened multiple sites and shell companies in the JigJiga Business Center in Minneapolis and received more than $1.6 million, some of which was spent on vehicles, real estate, and beach property in Kenya.
  • Brava Restaurant & Café LLC in Rochester claimed to serve millions of meals and falsely claimed to have a contract with Rochester Public Schools, receiving about $4.3 million, some of which went to vehicles, real estate, and property on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

The Minnesota Department of Education released a statement on Tuesday saying it reported Feeding Our Future’s “unexplained growth” to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, USDA’s Office of Inspector General, and the FBI until it was able to find “someone who would take the troubling spending as seriously as we were.”

 

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