US prosecutors have charged 47 people in the biggest-ever alleged scheme to defraud aid to fight the coronavirus, the BBC reported. The suspects are accused of stealing $250 million from a government aid program that was supposed to provide food to needy children during the pandemic. The accused allegedly spent the money on properties, cars and luxury goods. The Minnesota nonprofit Feeding Our Future is accused of coordinating the plot. Founder Amy Bock denies any wrongdoing. Ms Bock’s lawyer told the BBC: “We have maintained our innocence from day one.” He said the indictment was “only the beginning of the criminal process” and was a “mere allegation”. FBI Director Christopher Wray said the “horrific conspiracy” was the largest of its kind ever uncovered. The suspects allegedly issued invoices for meals they did not serve to non-existent children, the Justice Department said in a statement. They have done this by taking advantage of a government initiative through which private restaurants can apply for funding to distribute food under the patronage of non-profit organisations. The defendants allegedly bribed Feeding Our Future officials to sponsor numerous fictitious food distribution sites.
According to the Department of Justice, these sites claim that within days or weeks of their establishment, they were providing food to thousands of children a day. But instead they submitted false documents using fake children’s names, some of which were taken from the website www.listofrandomnames.com. The group used the proceeds to buy luxury cars, as well as real estate in the US, Kenya and Turkey, and to finance international travel. Charges including wire fraud, money laundering and bribery have been filed against the alleged fraudsters. US Attorney General Merrick Garland said the Justice Department will continue to pursue those who have “exploited the pandemic for personal gain.