Rochester business connected to scheme to defraud the federal government

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(ABC 6 News) – Feeding Our Future is a non-profit that used federal taxpayer dollars to feed hungry children during the pandemic. Tuesday, federal prosecutors are calling it a massive fraud scheme.

47 people in total have been indicted, making up a total of six different groups of businesses or organizations. Documents stated more than $250 million were misappropriated.

The U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota called it a brazen scheme of staggering proportion. “Each indictment a group of defendants who worked together to defraud the federal child nutrition program with feeding our future as their sponsor. Each of the groups of defendants created entities. Typically LLC that contracted with feeding our future as a sponsor,” said Attorney Andy Luger.

These six groups have been charged with federal crimes including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and paying and receiving illegal kickbacks.

RELATED: Feds charge 47, including 4 from Rochester, in ‘Feeding Our Future’ COVID-19 fraud scheme

Of the groups facing these charges is Brava Restaurant and Café in Rochester. Four of the six people involved with the restaurant are from Rochester. Roxanna Ortega who works at one of the neighboring businesses was shocked to hear the news. “What I know is that they were really nice they always gave out free food like I said throughout the whole summer. They were giving out huge platters of food,” she said.

According to federal documents, the business received $4.3 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds. The six individuals involved in the business are said to have used the funds for their own personal benefit, spending the money on vehicles, real estate and property on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. Even making a false claim of a partnership with Rochester Public Schools.

Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester is an active member in the community by feeding families in need. They are not associated with Feeding Our Future. Executive Director of Channel One Virginia Merritt said that between the months of October 2020 and December 2020, they provided 7,000 meals a week on $600,000.

“We hope that people know that we have been managing federal funds and federal grant awards appropriately for 40 plus years. And to see someone else not do that, and to have this national scandal in our own backyard is really disappointing and devastating cause those funds could have gone to feed so many children,” Merritt said.

Last summer the Department of Education started to cut funding to Feeding Our Future over growing suspicions of wrongdoing with increased claims coming from the organization and its partners. It said that they created fake invoices, fake rosters and random ages of kids benefiting from the program.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison even weighed in on the charges saying, “the scope of the fraud the government alleges is breathtaking and immoral.”

He also mentioned the state of Minnesota is conducting a civil investigation into the possible wrongdoings of Feeding Our Future.