Aimee Bock arrives at the federal courthouse with her attorneys, Kenneth Udoibok and Nancy Hylden. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Federal prosecutors arrested and charged Aimee Bock on Tuesday for allegedly defrauding the federal government in a wide-ranging scheme to steal money from child nutrition programs. The charges against her include wire fraud and conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery.

The indictment against Bock, executive director of the now-defunct nonprofit Feeding Our Future, is part of a sweeping federal investigation into the alleged theft of money from two programs meant to feed mostly children in daycare and afterschool settings. Overall, federal prosecutors allege individuals stole more than $250 million—the largest COVID pandemic fraud in the country.

“This is a scheme that begins with Aimee Bock and Feeding Our Future,” said Andrew Luger, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, at a press conference announcing the charges against 47 suspects. Charges against a 48th person were unsealed later in the day.

The indictment accuses Feeding Our Future of operating a “pay-to-play scheme” in which people operating fraudulent sites had to provide “kickbacks and bribes” to Feeding Our Future employees.

Aimee Bock (center in a white long sleeve shirt), executive director of Feeding Our Future, leaves the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis Tuesday evening with a garment draped over her head. She appeared in court hours earlier on allegations that she embezzled federal money earmarked to feed underprivileged children. Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal Credit: Drew Arrieta | Sahan Journal

Bock, 41, has staunchly defended herself and her organization in previous interviews with Sahan Journal.

Bock arrived at the federal courthouse in downtown Minneapolis about 10:45 a.m. Tuesday with her attorneys Kenneth Udoibok and Nancy Hylden. Bock declined to comment as she walked through the courthouse lobby and passed through security screening to surrender herself to authorities.

Udoibok and Hylden left the courthouse about 11:30 a.m. without Bock. Udoibok said Bock was doing well, and that they were informed earlier in the day that she would be indicted and required to surrender.

“I haven’t read it yet,” Udoibok said of the charging document. “I’m surprised that she’s indicted, because I didn’t think the government would charge her. An indictment is not an indication of guilt or innocence.

“At least now we know what the government position is.”

Bock made her first appearance in court Tuesday afternoon, pleaded not guilty, and was released.

The investigation implicated a total of 48 people across several indictments (or charging documents), including well-known local restaurateurs and former political appointees for the city of Minneapolis.

The federal Child and Adult Care Program and the Summer Food Service Program are used to feed children and adults in daycare and afterschool organizations. Together, they spend $4 billion a year to feed people across the country.

Feeding Our Future received hundreds of millions of dollars from these two federal programs from 2019 through 2021 and passed the money down to hundreds of mostly immigrant-run nonprofits across the state, according to records from the Minnesota Department of Education.

The process was supposed to work like this: Every month, Feeding Our Future supplied the Minnesota Department of Education with reports on the number of meals their contractors served. The Department of Education then sent the meal counts to the federal government for compensation. Feeding Our Future would then pass the federal money down to its contractors—religious institutions, non-profits, and other groups—that were supposed to use the money to feed children.

Instead, federal authorities allege, Feeding Our Future and its contractors used that money to enrich themselves.

“Individuals seeking to operate fraudulent sites under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future had to kickback a portion of their proceeds to Feeding Our Future employees,” the indictment states. 

Feeding Our Future was legally allowed to keep up to 15 percent of the funds it received as administrative fees. But site operators also paid Feeding Our Future employees kickbacks in the form of cash payments or checks often labeled as “consulting” payments.

Here’s an example of how the scheme allegedly worked. Between November 2020 and November 2021, Stigma-Free Willmar, a food site sponsored by Feeding Our Future, purported to feed 2,000 children a day—which would have constituted about half the students in the Willmar Public Schools. But, federal authorities say, the meal count sheets, attendance rosters, and invoices were fraudulent. Only 33 of the 2,000 names on the meal roster matched the names of students in the school district.

For serving as a sponsor to Stigma-Free Willmar, Feeding Our Future received nearly $500,000 in administrative fees. The leaders of Stigma-Free Willmar pocketed more than $4 million. And they paid $225,000 of that money in “bribes and kickbacks” to Abdikerm Eidleh, the Feeding Our Future employee who served as the site support manager in Willmar.

During the pandemic, when schools—often an important source of children’s meals—shut down, these reimbursements amounted to millions of dollars each month. Feeding Our Future received $3.4 million in federal food-aid money in 2019, $43 million in 2020, and $198 million in 2021.

Asked if he had a message for the families and children who relied on the government-subsidized meals, Udoibok said, “It’s an unfortunate situation. My client meant well–she still means well, and we hope that the jury will see that all did was try to help folks.”

Udoibok said Bock would not engage with any possible plea negotiations. He predicted that her court case could continue for a year.

“She’s innocent,” Udoibok said.

The indictment accuses Bock of overseeing a “massive scheme to defraud,” committed by the sites that Feeding Our Future sponsored. According to the indictment, individual sites submitted fake rosters of children they had fed using fake names and randomly generated ages. 

Bock and Feeding Our Future submitted these claims for reimbursement, the indictment alleges, despite knowing they were fraudulent.

The alleged fraud was simple at its foundation: Some organizations along the chain allegedly reported serving more meals than they actually served in order to receive more federal money. 

FBI search warrants unsealed in January allege that Feeding Our Future was the center of the scheme. Instead of feeding children, the money was allegedly spent for personal purposes on real estate, luxury cars, and lavish travel. 

The indictment alleges that Bock took a $310,000 payment from Abdulkadir Salah, a co-owner of Safari Restaurant, which was a contractor with Feeding Our Future.  

The search warrants alleged that Bock used some of the $310,000 money on personal purchases at HOM Furniture and an Eagan mall, and spent more than $15,000 at a car dealership. The search warrants also alleged that Bock used the money to write a $70,000 cashier’s check to her ex-husband. 

Bock previously told Sahan Journal that the $310,000 transaction actually involved the purchase of a daycare business that she founded in 2019. But the indictment charges that she actually sold a food site to Cosmopolitan Business Solutions, the parent company of Safari. She created a contract stating the transaction involved selling a childcare center to make it appear legitimate, the indictment alleges.

After purchasing the food site, the indictment continues, Abdulkadir submitted meal count sheets to Feeding Our Future claiming his business was feeding 1,700 children a day. He attached a roster with the names of the children. But the roster, authorities say, was fake.

Chao Xiong and Becky Z. Dernbach contributed reporting.

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Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...