US: Another Feeding Our Future Fraudster Pleads Guilty

Published: 12 January 2024

Child Breakfast

U.S. authorities say the conspirators defrauded the government of $250 million, money which was meant to feed hungry children in the wake of the pandemic. (Photo: Pexels, License)

By Henry Pope

Another defendant in the US$250 million Feeding Our Future fraud scheme pleaded guilty Wednesday, bringing the total to 17 who have confessed to stealing millions from a U.S. federal program designed to feed needy children in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sharon Denise Ross, 53, pleaded guilty to wire fraud for her part in a conspiracy against the U.S. government’s program. Created in March 2020, it was designed to provide low-income families with meals for their children as they struggled to cope with the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic.

Businesses could enroll in the federal nutrition program as sponsors to ensure that millions of meals would be properly distributed to children in need. In exchange, 10 to 15 percent of the federal funds would be retained as an administrative fee.

In Minnesota, however, a group of people decided that stealing from a children’s food program was a good idea.

Ross is part of an ever-growing list of conspirators exposed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). When the fraud came to light in September 2022, 47 were originally charged; that number now stands at 60, with federal prosecutors expecting more to be added to the list in due time.

As executive director of House of Refuge Twin Cities, a St. Paul-based non-profit, Ross enrolled her business in Feeding Our Future in September 2021. She claimed that it operated distribution sites at a dozen locations throughout the community.

In reality, however, over the course of six months, she lied to having served nearly 900,000 meals and, in doing so, claimed approximately $2.4 million for herself from a program meant to feed hungry children.

Some of the conspirators attempted to cover their tracks by fabricating lists of fake children who received daily meals at their sites. One member in particular was too lazy to fill out the names and instead used a website designed to create random ones.

What became of the money? Prosecutors said that Ross gave hundreds of thousands to family members and used to rest to fund a lavish lifestyle.

Vacations to Florida and Las Vegas, premier seats at basketball games, and a new house in Willernie, Minnesota. All at the expense of families struggling to make ends meet as the world collapsed around them.

Collectively, the 60 known conspirators defrauded the government of more than 125 million fake meals between March 2020 and January 2022. The final bill stood at roughly $250 million.

United States Attorney Andrew Luger described it as “the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme.”

Ross is yet to be sentenced for her crimes.