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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

FBI raids Twin Cities businesses suspected of ‘massive fraud’ in baby food programs

According to court records, the nonprofit Twin Cities and a network of business operators stole tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to help feed children in need while schools were closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

On Thursday, more than 200 agents from the FBI and other state and federal agencies raided more than a dozen locations, including Feeding Our Future’s St. Anthony office and director Aimee Bock’s Rosemount home.

The FBI alleges in a search warrant affidavit that Feeding Our Future, the state’s largest independent funder of federal food programs, filed false reimbursement reports and conspired with business owners who stole and laundered funds in a “massive fraud” involving shell companies, kickbacks and dozens of bank accounts.

“Companies and their owners have received tens of millions of dollars in federal funds to use in providing nutritious meals to underprivileged children and adults,” the FBI agent wrote. “Almost none of that money went to feeding the children. Instead, the participants in the scheme embezzled the money and used it to buy real estate, cars and other luxuries.”

No criminal charges were filed, and the FBI said it made no arrests on Thursday.

The Minnesota Department of Education made the decision Thursday to end Feeding Our Future as a sponsor and stop funding from the USDA Summer Food Program and Child and Adult Care Food Program.

The department also suspended reimbursement for a second sponsor, Partners in Nutrition, also known as Partners in Quality Care, based on information contained in the search warrants. Bock worked at Partners in Nutrition.

PANDEMIC RULES

The two federal food programs typically provide meals for children in need during the summer when schools are closed, as well as meals and snacks for children in childcare and after-school programs.

But early in the pandemic, with many schools closed to keep the virus under control, the USDA expanded eligibility for its food programs to allow restaurants to participate, authorize meals in higher income areas, and allow distribution of multi-day food packages to the public. . be eaten off site.

Meanwhile, many employees of the Minnesota Department of Education, which oversees food programs, have been ordered to work from home.

“According to MDE officials, this left the program vulnerable to fraud and abuse,” the FBI wrote.

RELATED: Political fallout from Feeding our Future raid begins to unfold

The Department of Education’s workload has increased dramatically as a result of new USDA regulations. He usually receives about 80 requests each year for new food sites. For the first half of 2021, 838 requests were received.

Worried about its inability to verify claims, the department prepared to drastically reduce the number of food distribution points last summer before relenting under pressure from hunger supporters.

Kickbacks, laundering

Bock’s Feeding Our Future has been a major beneficiary of USDA’s pandemic waivers.

Founded in 2017, the nonprofit received $3.5 million in food reimbursements in 2019, $42.7 million in 2020, and $197.9 million last year. The sponsor charged a 10 per cent administration fee on these refunds on contracts with facility operators, many of which were operated by members of the East African diaspora.

According to the FBI, several site operators barely spent that money on food for children.

The Feeding Our Future organization itself claimed to have several major distribution sites, but when the FBI agents arrived, they discovered that the parking lots were empty.

The warrants state that Feeding Our Future employees, as well as several business operators, set up shell companies that they used to hide the proceeds of the scheme.

The FBI also found evidence that Bok received a $310,000 kickback from one of the businesses and that her boyfriend, Empress Malcolm Watson Jr., set up his own front company to hide about $600,000 in federal money.

No one answered a call to the Feeding Our Future office on Friday, and a company lawyer did not answer a phone message.

ISK

Department of Education spokesperson Ashley Norris said the office reported Feeding Our Future’s activities to the USDA regional office and the inspector general when the nonprofit failed to explain and document its rapid growth in the summer of 2020.

Then, in November 2020, Feeding Our Future sued the Department of Education for taking too long to approve applications for dozens of new sites, alleging that the agency discriminated against minority-owned businesses and the families they serve.

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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