Author: Lou Raguse, Dana Thiede
Monday March 13, 2023
MINNEAPOLIS — The alleged criminal fraud case involving Feeding Our Future continues to expand with U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announcing charges against 10 more suspects Monday. "While the defendants we announce today are new, and some of the tactics they used are specific as to how they executed the scheme, the song of the Feeding Our Future scandal remains the same," Luger asserted. "These defendants, just like the first 50 announced last fall, falsely claimed to be feeding thousands of children a day. They submitted false reimbursement sheets with phoney names of children and often used false invoices to make it appear they were purchasing large amounts of food when they were not. "
At a news conference, U.S. Attorney for the Minnesota District Andrew Luger told reporters 60 people are now charged in the scheme he says siphoned more than $250 million intended to feed underserved children during the pandemic. Of that, Luger says authorities have seized more than $66 million in property, bank accounts, real estate and vehicles, which alone account for $4 million.
Luger said like those previously charged, the new defendants used the money siphoned via the scheme to buy property, real estate, and luxury vehicles, and in one case a defendant made a down-payment on an airplane that was delivered to Kenya. Another allegedly bought a laundromat for the purpose of laundering money.
Three new indictments have been unsealed along with a superseding indictment adding new defendants to a case with some previously charged. The defendants are scheduled to make their initial appearances in court today and Tuesday.
At his press conference, Luger used the example of new defendant Kawsar Jama to illustrate the allegation of brazen fraud. He said Jama claimed to be serving 2560 meals per day in Pelican Rapids, population 2500, and received $3.7 million from the federal meal programs.
"She forged a phony lease and submitted it with her application to make it look like she was serving at a place in Pelican Rapids," Luger said. "She claimed to be serving everyone living in Pelican Rapids, every day, whether they were children or not, whether they were needy or not."
She went on to turn in phony invoices to make it look like she was buying food, but there was no food and no children, according to Luger, who said Jama made up fake names of the kids she claimed to serve.
"A friend helped her invent more names as the scheme went on," Luger said. "Jama did not even have a food site."
Three of the ten new suspects are charged through what's called "information" rather than a grand jury indictment. When a suspect is charged through an information, it generally means they are expected to enter a guilty plea and cooperate with the feds.
Mohamed Ali Hussein and Lul Bashir Ali are charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a detailed information document.
Hussein was president and owner of Somali American Faribault Education, a non-profit located in Faribault referred to as "SAFE." According to the information, Hussein falsely claimed to be serving meals to as many as 2,500 children a day, seven days a week – totaling 1.2 million meals between Feb. and Nov. 2021.
Hussein is also accused of paying more than $100,000 in kickbacks to Abdikerm Eidleh of Feeding Our Future, the nonprofit that sponsored SAFE as a meal site.
Ali was the owner of Lido Restaurant in Faribault, which also operated as a Federal Child Nutrition Program site under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Lido Restaurant also participated as a meal vendor to provide and serve meals at the SAFE site.
According to the information document, Ali falsely claimed Lido Restaurant was serving meals to as many as 1,600 children per day, seven days a week – totaling 700,000 meals.
In all, Hussein and Ali received more than $5 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds as part of the fraud scheme.
Another suspect is charged via information, with very few details being released so far. Mulata Ali is charged with theft of government funds between Dec. 2020 and Jan. 2022. The charging document says Ali "willfully and knowingly" did steal and purloin funds from the Federal Child Nutrition Program.
U.S. Attorney Luger made it clear that the investigation into the scheme is not finished, and he fully expects to levy more charges in the case.
News of the Feeding Our Future scheme originally broke in September of 2022, when nearly 50 people were charged in an operation that allegedly defrauded the federal government out of more than $250 million. Feeding Our Future was supposed to feed underserved children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the time, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger called it “a brazen scheme of staggering proportions.”