A 'Brazen' $250 Million Pandemic Aid Fraud

A 'Brazen' $250 Million Pandemic Aid Fraud

The FBI raided the office of Minneapolis-based Feeding Our Future in January
By Yuval Rosenberg and Michael Rainey
Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Happy Tuesday. Here’s something many of you might look forward to: Elton John will play at the White House Friday evening as part of an event titled "A Night When Hope and History Rhyme." The show, done in collaboration with A&E Networks and The History Channel, will reportedly air on television at a later date.

Here’s what else we’re watching:

US Charges 47 in ‘Brazen’ $250 Million Pandemic Aid Fraud

The Justice Department on Tuesday announced federal criminal charges against 47 defendants alleged to have participated in a massive $250 million fraud to collect pandemic aid funds.

The defendants are accused of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery as part of what the government says was a Minnesota-based scheme to steal Federal Child Nutrition Program funds that were meant to reimburse the cost of meals provided for needy children during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The meals were never served — and the children did not exist.

Attorney General Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray said it was the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme yet. "In partnership with agencies across government, the Justice Department will continue to bring to justice those who have exploited the pandemic for personal gain and stolen from American taxpayers," Garland said in a statement.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger called it "a brazen scheme of staggering proportions" and "the ultimate -get-rich-quick scheme," noting that the defendants claimed to have served more than 125 million meals — thousands of fake meals a day over 20 months.

Prosecutors said that a nonprofit organization called Feeding Our Future and its founder, Aimee Bock, were at the core of the fraud. The group went from receiving and disbursing about $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021, prosecutors say. Feeding Our Future was supposed to serve as a watchdog guarding against fraud, but prosecutors allege that it did the opposite, recruiting other participants in the fraudulent operations while insisting on and receiving kickbacks for sponsoring fake feeding organizations.

The government says that the defendants submitted fraudulent documents purporting to detail the children and meals served. In one case, the government alleges, a fake attendance roster was created using names from a website called listofrandomnames.com. Prosecutors said that the defendants used the money they allegedly stole to buy luxury cards, houses, jewelry and foreign real estate.

"The indictments are accusations, and many of those who were charged have said they did nothing wrong," David Farenthold of The New York Times reports. "After a series of F.B.I. searches in January revealed the existence of the investigation, Ms. Bock told The Times that she had put in place strong antifraud measures and did not believe anyone in her system had broken the rules."

Quote of the Day

"When the president announced that the pandemic was over, I think he made it that much harder to convince people that they need additional funding."

Sen. John Thune (R-SD), speaking at a Tuesday morning Punchbowl News event, commenting on President Joe Biden’s declaration in an interview with "60 Minutes" that the Covid-19 pandemic is "over."

Other Republicans have made similar comments, and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) sent a letter to Biden listing emergency pandemic-era policies, including enhanced Medicaid funding, that should be wound down in light of Biden’s comments.

Read more about the fallout from Biden’s comment at Politico.

Webb Telescope Leader Named Federal Employee of the Year

Since sending its first images back to Earth last summer, the James Webb Space Telescope has been thrilling astronomers and the general public alike with some of the most detailed photographs ever taken of stars, planets and distant galaxies. On Tuesday, Gregory Robinson, the former program director for the wildly successful scientific instrument, was named the 2022 Federal Employee of the Year.

The award is one of several Service to America Medals awarded each year by the Partnership for Public Service, a non-profit, non-partisan organization founded in 2001 to support the idea of careers in government. The organization will award the medals, known as the "Sammies," at a ceremony on Tuesday night at the Kennedy Center in Washington.

The largest optical telescope in space, the Webb telescope is in orbit about 1 million miles from Earth, and its dazzling, full-color images of Stephan's Quintet and the "Cosmic Cliffs" of the Carina Nebula have revealed a new level of detail about the nature of the universe. But the telescope faced serious delays getting off the ground, with its planned launch date of 2014 being pushed back repeatedly and its $4.9 billion budget ballooning to twice that amount.

Robinson became the director of the program in 2018, in charge of a team of roughly 10,000 workers in 14 countries, and under his leadership, the telescope finally made it to space last December, with the first image coming in July, just in time for Robinson’s retirement.

It "takes true leadership and vision and focus in order to be able to do that," Karen Flynn, NASA’s deputy associate administrator for management, told The Washington Post. "And so that’s what I would principally say Greg brought to the team."

Other Sammie winners: The Partnership for Public Service hands out multiple awards to outstanding public employees each year as part of its effort to support federal workers and the broader idea of public service. "The work of our government is often invisible to the public, but the 2022 Service to America Medal winners place the spotlight on a wide range of remarkable success stories and defy the stereotypes of those who are dedicated to serving the nation and our collective interests," said Max Stier, the Partnership’s president.

"During these turbulent times when federal employees have been threatened and demonized, the accomplishments of the Sammies winners demonstrate the important role that dedicated civil servants and our government play in meeting the critical needs of the nation," Stier added.

Other honorees include:

* H. Clifford Lane of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who received the Paul A. Volcker Career Achievement Medal for his work on combatting infectious diseases including Ebola, HIV/AIDS and Covid-19.

* Amanda Cohn, Anita Patel and David Fitter of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, who received the Covid-19 Response Medal for their work on distributing vaccines during the pandemic.

* Krista Kinnard of the Labor Department, who received the Emerging Leaders Medal for her work deploying technology to reduce time spent on administrative tasks.

* Barbara Morton of the Department of Veterans Affairs, who received the Management Excellence Medal for her work on improving customer service and trust at the VA.

* Hilary Ingraham, Holly Herrera and Kiera Berdinner of the Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, who received the Safety, Security and International Affairs Medal for their work in helping to settle more than 76,000 Afghan refugees in the U.S.

* Cindy Newberg of the Environmental Protection Agency, who received the Science, Technology and Environment Medal for her work in reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons, which are linked to climate change.

Lyrics of the Day

We’re the mighty watchful eye,

Guardians beyond the blue,

The invisible front line,

Warfighters brave and true.

Boldly reaching into space,

There’s no limit to our sky.

Standing guard both night and day,

We’re the Space Force from on high.

Created in 2019 during the Trump administration as the first new branch of the armed services in 73 years, the Space Force has released its official song, "Semper Supra," named after the Space Force motto, which is Latin for "Always Above."

"The Space Force has a song, and it doesn’t mention the aliens, intergalactic horse rides, or planetary conquests that were the signature of the many parodies that have plagued the service for nearly three years," says Defense One.

No final verdict yet on the tune itself, which you can hear toward the end of this introductory video, though the news site Military.com did say that "it’s not a banger." Asked about the song on Tuesday, Gen. Charles "CQ" Brown Jr., the chief of staff of the Air Force, said, "I'm sure it will grow on us."

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