6/13/2024
Today from Hiiraan Online:  _
advertisements
MN: Food-aid rosters were recycled across sites, used false names, prosecutors say in Feeding Our Future trial


Tuesday May 21, 2024


A witness in the Feeding Our Future trial said names of the same children turned up at sites miles away from each other — and only a handful matched local school district records.


Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Ebert gives his opening statement in the Feeding Our Future trial on April 29, 2024. Credit: Cedric Hohnstadt

Defendants in the Feeding Our Future trial claimed to feed children named “Unique Problem,” “Serious Problem,” “Friday Donations,” “Getsaname Hester,” and “Angel Albino” throughout the pandemic, according to evidence submitted by prosecutors to jurors Monday. 

These names came up in attendance rosters submitted to Feeding Our Future and Partners in Quality Care, the two nonprofit organizations that sponsored hundreds of food sites that sought federal money to feed underprivileged children during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

advertisements
IRS Special Agent Joshua Parks, who testified Monday, said that he matched these and other reported names of children with attendance records for 20 school districts across the state where the food sites were located. For example, one attendance roster titled “All Names” sent in a July 2021 email from Hayat Nur to Abdi Nur, who are both defendants in the trial, contained a list of more than 3,000 names of children supposedly fed at multiple food sites. Just 177 of the names matched 193,000 students enrolled in the districts with food sites, which ranged from the Twin Cities to Rochester and St. Cloud. 

advertisements
U.S. Assistant Attorney Matthew Ebert went through many of these attendance records site by site with Parks. Among the sites they compared were Dar Al Farooq, a Bloomington mosque where a company called Mind Foundry claimed it served 1.9 million meals in 2021. For September 2021, Abdi Nur sent defendant Mukhtar Shariff a list of more than 3,000 names of children who defendants claimed ate daily meals at the mosque. Just 170 of those names matched up with the more than 10,000 students enrolled in Bloomington Public Schools, Parks testified.

“Is that significant to the investigation?” Ebert asked Parks.

“Yes,” Parks replied. “I’d expect more, given the location of Dar Al Farooq in Bloomington.” 

Previously in trial, defense attorneys argued that most of the food sites under question in the trial were “open sites,” meaning they were not limited to particular boundaries and anyone could theoretically pick up meals there and go to multiple locations on the same day. The defendants weren’t required to check people’s IDs, they’ve also argued, as the federal government waived various regulations in an effort to prioritize feeding people during the pandemic. 

None of the defense attorneys on Monday, however, offered to cross-examine Parks.

The testimony came in the fifth week of a joint trial of seven defendants who are accused of falsely reporting the number of meals they served to underprivileged children in order to receive reimbursement through federal child nutrition programs. They are charged with allegedly stealing $40 million, and face a total of 41 criminal charges, including money laundering, fraud, and bribery. The trial is expected to last a total of six to eight weeks.

Identical rosters, week after week

In all the cases presented to the jury Monday, the names of children submitted were marked as eating meals week after week, going on for months. Parks testified that this is unusual, because a variety of factors can cause people to miss picking up meals. All the names for any given food site would usually appear in the same order week after week, Parks said. For example, attendance rosters submitted for Dar Al Farooq for January and February 2021 contained an identical 1,082 names, submitted in the same order.

“It appears that the list was reused, week after week, month after month,” Parks testified.

During some months, the number of names submitted would increase, but these were just new names added to the bottom of the same list, Parks said.

Ebert and Parks also zeroed in on some of the more unusual names that were a part of these lists. 

“Have you ever met anyone in your life named Friday Donations?” Ebert asked.

“I have not,” Parks said.

“Have you ever met a Britishy Melonie in your life?” Ebert asked at another point, referring to another name submitted.

“I have not,” Parks said. 

Other names submitted were less colorful, including Veronica Doe, Patience Doe, Anita Doe, Flavor Doe, John Doe, and Joseph Doe. 

Parks also testified that he found several of the same names for the same meals at different food sites. Nearly three-quarters of the names submitted for Dar Al Farooq were also submitted at the Cedar Cultural Center, despite the fact that both locations are 10 miles from each other.

“We wouldn’t expect to fund the same names eating 10 miles across from each other in the same period,” Parks said. 

“And it’s the same food, the same snacks?” Ebert asked.

“Yes,” Parks said.

Similarly, three-quarters of the same names submitted for Dar Al Farooq were submitted for a food site in Apple Valley. One of those names was written on the attendance rosters as follows: “Unique Problem (read comment).”

In another example, 122 names matched at five different food sites ranging from Minneapolis to Owatonna, which are about 65 miles from each other. 

“It would appear the rosters are being replicated at many different sites,” Parks said.

Testimony in the trial resumes Tuesday at 9:00 a.m.




Who’s on trial?

The defendants on trial are facing a total of 41 charges, including wire fraud, bribery and money laundering. They mostly worked for businesses that used Partners in Quality Care as a sponsor.

The defendants are: 

  • Abdiaziz Farah co-owned Empire Cuisine and Market. Federal prosecutors allege that the Shakopee-based deli and grocery store posed as a meals provider for several food sites, and defrauded the government out of $28 million. Abdiaziz allegedly pocketed more than $8 million for himself. He is also charged with lying on an application to renew his passport after federal agents seized his passport as part of their investigation. 
  • Mohamed Jama Ismail co-owned Empire Cuisine and Market. Mohamed is Abdiziz’s uncle. He is also owner of MZ Market LLC, which prosecutors allege was a shell company used to launder the stolen money. Mohamed allegedly pocketed $2.2 million. He previously pleaded guilty to passport fraud.
  • Abdimajid Nur allegedly created a shell company, Nur Consulting, and laundered stolen money from Empire Cuisine and ThinkTechAct, other alleged shell companies. Abdimajid, who was 21 at the time of his indictment, allegedly pocketed $900,000. 
  • Hayat Nur allegedly submitted fake meal counts and invoices served at food sites. Court documents identify Hayat as Abdimajid’s sister. Hayat allegedly pocketed $30,000. 
  • Said Farah co-owned Bushra Wholesalers, which allegedly laundered money by claiming to be a food vendor that provided meals to food sites that then reportedly served children. Court documents identify Said as Abdiaziz’s brother. Said allegedly pocketed more than $1 million. 
  • Abdiwahab Aftin co-owned Bushra Wholesalers, and allegedly pocketed $435,000.
  • Mukhtar Shariff served as CEO of Afrique Hospitality Group, and allegedly used the company to launder stolen money. He allegedly pocketed more than $1.3 million.



 





Click here