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FBI investigating nonprofit Feeding Our Future for alleged fraud

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FBI investigating nonprofit Feeding Our Future for alleged fraud

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Federal authorities executed a search warrant Thursday at the headquarters of Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit that claims to serve thousands of meals each month to children in need across Minnesota during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The FBI says the St. Anthony-based nonprofit was part of a larger scheme to defraud the U.S. Department of Agriculture out of millions of dollars, funneling money from child nutrition programs funded by the federal government to an array of entities to launder the money and use it for personal gain. real estate, cars and other luxury items.

Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the nonprofit, did not return messages for comment on Thursday.

The federal government distributes funds to the state Department of Education (MOE) to reimburse nonprofits and other organizations that provide nutritious meals to children. Yet, according to court documents, almost none of the money went to children.

On Thursday, more than 200 law enforcement personnel searched more than a dozen locations in the Twin Cities linked to the investigation; no arrests were made. Feeding Our Future’s St. Anthony office building was one of the buildings attacked by officers, who pushed carts stacked with boxes outside in sub-zero temperatures to load them onto a truck. FBI spokesman Michael Kulstad confirmed that the agency along with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, US Postal Inspection Service and US Marshals Service are working on the investigation in Classes.

The allegations included the use of federal funds not to provide free meals to underprivileged children and adults, but rather to spend them on extravagant expenses, including the purchase of property in Kenya and lavish trips to Las Vegas.

“Almost none of that money was used to feed the children,” FBI Special Agent Travis Wilmer wrote in a sworn statement to the investigation. “Instead, participants in the scheme embezzled the money and used it to purchase real estate, cars and other luxury items. To date, the conspirators have stolen millions of dollars in funds feds. The scheme is underway.”

A person who identified himself as a staff member of Feeding Our Future said FBI personnel showed up at 8 a.m. and interviewed each of the nonprofit’s staff members before taking the files; four hours later, they still didn’t know why the agency was there.

Bock, of Rosemount, started Feeding Our Future in 2017 and said the nonprofit has helped community partners participate in the federal food program, contracting with sites it sponsors, documents show. judicial. But the MDE became concerned about the massive increase in funding for sites sponsored by Feeding Our Future, according to the documents.

Feeding Our Future received $300,000 in 2018 from federal child nutrition programs, increasing to more than $197 million by 2021, according to court documents. The FBI began investigating last May.

Bock took a $310,000 bribe from a company that misused federal funds and sent $600,000 of the federal funds to his partner through a shell company, according to court documents.

Bock is one of at least three employees of the nonprofit that the FBI alleges misappropriated funds.

Safari Restaurant and Event Center received federal funding from Feeding Our Future, and several employees set up their own businesses there to enroll in federal child nutrition programs, sponsored by Feeding Our Future, according to court documents. They claimed to feed thousands of children a day and were reimbursed over $10 million. But bank statements show they spent most of that money on cars, real estate and other luxury items, investigators say.

No one was available at Safari Restaurant for comment on Thursday. A sign posted in a Minneapolis restaurant window advertised free meals for young people 18 and under.

In July 2020, Safari Restaurant claimed to serve meals to 5,000 children a day — a large amount considering Wayzata High School, the state’s largest, serves 3,600 students, according to court documents. In September 2020, an MDE employee said the Safari restaurant was to serve a number of meals comparable to the entire St. Paul public school district, the investigators wrote. The department terminated Safari Restaurant’s participation in the program and Feeding Our Future sued the department in November 2020, claiming that MDE had discriminated against the nonprofit that worked with minorities. racial.

In a statement Thursday, the Minnesota Department of Education said it has decided to immediately end Feeding Our Future’s permanent agreements under the Federal Child and Adult Food Care Program and the Food Services Program. of summer. The department said it had also issued an order to stop payments to the group.

In the summer of 2020, the department saw rapid growth in the number of community sites sponsored by Feeding Our Future and a massive increase in the rate of meal reimbursement claims.

“MOE staff have worked repeatedly with Feeding our Future representatives to understand the increase in demand, but have not received sufficient information and supporting documentation to explain the increase in reimbursement requests from meals,” the department’s statement said.

The state reported irregularities to the US Department of Agriculture in 2020 and denied dozens of site requests starting in December of that year due to exceeding regulatory caps for the maximum number of children served daily. He also declared Feeding Our Future “seriously deficient” due to incomplete financial audits and an expired nonprofit status with the IRS and again for non-compliance with USDA standards.

The Department of Education subsequently issued a “stop payment” order and Feeding Our Future sued the department in November 2020. In April 2021, a Ramsey County judge ordered the department to resume payments .

“The kids need this,” Bock said at an event in June, according to video from Minnesota Somali TV, adding of a rally outside the MDE: “We will show the State exactly how many children, how many families, how many businesses rely on this program, how badly it is needed.”

About a month earlier, according to search warrants released Thursday, the FBI had launched its investigation into Feeding Our Future.

FBI investigating nonprofit Feeding Our Future for alleged fraud

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