This should never happen but why does it seem like it’s happening more and more in Minnesota? The governor, the state’s agencies, the Legislature, and the media all have a role to play in ensuring taxpayer dollars don’t fall victim to fraud, yet, here we are…
From Rolling Stone:
Minnesota Nonprofit Accused of Buying Luxury Cars, Vacation Homes With Millions Meant to Feed Hungry Kids
FEDERAL PROSECUTORS HAVE indicted 47 people in connection with an alleged fraud scheme that saw $250 million, meant to help feed hungry kids in Minnesota, instead go to luxury cars, commercial real estate, and vacation homes.
The numerous charges were announced Tuesday, Sept. 20, with the Department of Justice unsealing six separate indictments. In a statement, Attorney General Merrick Garland described the alleged plot as “the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date.”
The scheme allegedly centered around the non-profit group, Feeding Our Future, whose founder and executive director, Aimee Bock, was among the 47 people indicted. Bock and others are accused of defrauding the Federal Child Nutrition Program, which is administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and helps bring free meals to children in need.
In Minnesota, the state’s Department of Education oversees the Federal Child Nutrition Program. Meals are handed out at designated sites, which must be sponsored by an authorized organization (such as Feeding Our Future). The sponsors are responsible for monitoring the distribution sites and submitting reimbursement claims. The bulk of the reimbursement claims goes back to the sites, though the sponsoring agency retains 10 to 15 percent as an administrative fee.
From the Star Tribune:
Feeding Our Future among 48 people charged in $250 million federal food aid fraud scheme
As part of a “pay-to-play” scheme, Bock and other company employees solicited and received bribes from people and companies seeking to join the fast-growing criminal enterprise, according to the charges.
Many of the bribes were paid directly to Abdikerm Abdelahi Eidleh, a Feeding Our Future employee who was accused of receiving kickbacks ranging from $49,000 to $225,000, the charges say. Eidleh could not be reached for comment and court records indicate he does not have an attorney yet.
Eidleh is accused of depositing more than $5 million in kickbacks, bribes and other fraud proceeds into bank accounts opened in the name of his shell companies.
Feeding Our Future scandal rocks Minnesota beyond Twin Cities
Part of the indictment references Willmar, where prosecutors accuse the defendants of setting up a meal site under a reorganized nonprofit known as “Stigma-Free International” in the fall of 2020.
“It’s unfortunate that the good folks that work really hard for a living and contribute to this community in a very positive way are being dragged in by some people that allegedly did something wrong,” Gaal said. “It’s not positive. I’d rather not be associated with this kind of news.”
According to the indictment, 30-year-old Abdikadir Mohamud of Fridley “approached the owner” of a Somali restaurant in downtown Willmar in October 2020 to see if he would like to participate in a program to feed hungry kids. Mohamud then “offered to pay him $40,000 per month to use his small storefront restaurant for the Stigma-Free Willmar site” and ultimately paid him a total of $570,000 in 2021.
Neither the restaurant owner, nor the restaurant itself, is accused of engaging in any criminal activity. Rather, prosecutors say Mohamud set up a shell company and used the restaurant as a means for overreporting the number of meals served to local kids in Willmar.
“During the one-year period from November 2020 to November 2021, Abdikadir Mohamud and his co-conspirators claimed to have served approximately 1.6 million meals at the Stigma-Free Willmar site,” the indictment states. “In support of these claims, Abdikadir Mohamud prepared and submitted fraudulent meal count sheets and invoices.”