Forty-seven people in the northern US state of Minnesota have been charged in connection with a $240 million Covid relief fraud scheme, officials said Tuesday.
"Today's indictments describe an egregious plot to steal public funds meant to care for children in need in what amounts to the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme yet," FBI Director Christopher Wray said.
The Justice Department alleged that the defendants diverted tens of millions of dollars disbursed under the Federal Child Nutrition Program to feed needy children during the Covid pandemic.
Among those charged is Aimee Bock, 41, the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, a non-profit organization that was a sponsor of the Federal Child Nutrition Program.
"Feeding Our Future employees recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota," the Justice Department said in a statement.
"These sites, created and operated by the defendants and others, fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day," it said.
Instead, they submitted false invoices and fraudulent meal count sheets using fake names of children.
According to the Justice Department, Feeding Our Future claimed to have opened more than 250 sites throughout the state of Minnesota during the pandemic.
"The defendants used the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme to purchase luxury vehicles, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota as well as property in Ohio and Kentucky, real estate in Kenya and Turkey, and to fund international travel," the department said.
The defendants face an array of charges ranging from wire fraud to federal programs bribery to money laundering.