The Justice Department charged a total of 47 defendants for allegedly stealing money from a federal program that was designed to give food to needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The charge claims the defendants in Minnesota stole an alleged $250 million — the largest sum to date in fraudulent money, The Washington Post reported.
Authorities claim the defendants took advantage of a “lack of oversight” and the need for quick-action when the pandemic initially started.
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger said in a statement.
How did the defendants obtain the money?
The case focuses on individuals and organizations involved with the nonprofit Feeding Our Future based in Minnesota.
The nonprofit was endowed to sponsor and oversee restaurants, community centers and other public gathering places to help deliver the meals to children in need, using the federal funds to do so, per The Washington Post.
FBI affidavits revealed that in one month, a well-known restaurant collected $1.1 million after “claiming to have fed 185,000 children. The FBI pointed out in court records that a typical McDonald’s restaurant takes in $2.9 million — in an entire year,” NBC News reported.
The scheme was elaborate, according to the Justice Department, and involved fake charities, businesses and even a list of names of fake children who were fed by the program, according to NBC News.
What happened to the money the defendants stole in the pandemic fraud scheme?
Indictments of the individuals disclosed that some of the money was spent on real estate in the U.S., Kenya and Turkey, as well as luxury cars, cryptocurrency, guns and even a Louis Vuitton duffel bag, The New York Times reported.
“The defendants exploited the Covid-19 pandemic — and the resulting program changes — to enrich themselves,” the indictments say, per The New York Times.
A federal grand jury indicted 44 people and the defendants are facing an array of charges, “including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and paying and receiving illegal kickbacks,” CNN reported.