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Last year, while Feeding Our Future was collecting nearly $200 million in federal money earmarked for feeding low-income children, the nonprofit’s executive director also held an online fundraiser that brought in tens of thousands more.
Aimee Bock, who is alleged in unsealed FBI search warrants to have participated in a scheme to use the federal money for lavish personal use, set up a fundraiser on GoFundMe in October 2021 under the title “Feeding Our Future Emergency Fund.”
This fundraiser wasn’t for Feeding Our Future, however, but rather for a separate organization Bock founded in 2021 called Feeding Our Future II. The fundraiser drew nearly $74,000, including $29,000 from five men with the same names as people identified in the search warrants who are alleged to have fraudulently received tens of millions of dollars from the federal child nutrition program through Feeding Our Future.
Bock launched the GoFundMe campaign for Feeding Our Future II two weeks before the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office suspended her original organization’s registration as a charity, ending its authority to solicit further donations.
The donations to Feeding Our Future II were tax deductible, meaning anyone who gave money could write those payments off and reduce their tax bill. Bock, who has not been charged with any crimes related to the FBI fraud investigation and firmly denies any wrongdoing, said the GoFundMe campaign was intended to create a savings fund for the organization.
“If they donated, they donated, but there was no malice,” Bock said of the men named in the search warrant. “There was no intent behind it other than to help the organization create that reserve.”
‘I still have to be able to pay my staff’
Bock said she founded Feeding Our Future II after receiving inquiries about working with potential food sites outside of Minnesota. Because Feeding Our Future accessed federal child nutrition program money through the Minnesota Department of Education, Bock said she and her staff weren’t sure if Feeding Our Future could work with food sites located outside of the state.
“Let’s say it was in Wisconsin,” Bock said in an interview earlier this week, naming a location of a potential food site. “I’d have to have somebody there who can do monitoring, visits, training, and the groundwork there. But I can’t use Minnesota funds.”
As she and her team researched whether they could use Feeding Our Future to work with out-of-state food sites, Bock said she created Feeding Our Future II as a “placeholder.” State records show Bock filed incorporation for Feeding Our Future II in January 2021. She started the fundraiser nine months later.
Bock said she held the fundraiser to create a savings account for Feeding Our Future II, which she said she was advised to do. Any surplus of federal child nutrition money must go back to the government at the end of every year, she said, creating the need for her nonprofit to keep a reserve on hand. She said such a rainy day fund would come in handy if, for instance, the federal government shut down.
“I still have to be able to pay my staff,” she said. “I still have to be able to monitor sites. I have to do all of that.”
At the same time, while disputing the FBI’s allegations that she stole $600,000 from the child nutrition program, Bock told Sahan Journal that that money was used to pay for an extensive office remodeling project. She said that federal guidelines allow entities like Feeding Our Future to use up to 15 percent of the federal money they receive for administrative purposes.
The GoFundMe page itself said all donations would support “refugees food stability,” “homlessness children emergency food,” “immigrant community outreach,” and “after-school meals and snacks.”
“The tragedy of childhood hunger is real in Minnesota, but we can make a real difference,” read text from the fundraiser’s page. “Help make a difference today by donating to Feeding our Future.”
Bock listed a fundraising goal of $200,000. According to public Internal Revenue Service records, Feeding Our Future II is a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization. That means all donations it receives are tax deductible.
‘Almost anytime there’s a major fraud, the government is looking at whether there is a component of tax fraud’
Last month, roughly 200 law enforcement agents raided more than a dozen locations tied to Feeding Our Future and its partners. The FBI raids included Feeding Our Future’s office and Bock’s own home, where she tearfully recalled roughly 50 law enforcement agents breaking in with guns drawn.
Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger told Sahan Journal that the aggressiveness of the search warrants and the scope of the raids suggest a major white collar criminal investigation.
“Almost anytime there’s a major fraud, the government is looking at whether there is a component of tax fraud,” he said, speaking generally about FBI investigations and not specifically about the Feeding Our Future probe. “The reason is, it gives them a whole new group to bring into an investigation—the IRS. And it also brings in new violations.”
It’s unclear if that’s what’s happening in this probe. An FBI spokesperson declined to comment on the status of the Feeding Our Future investigation.
No one named in the FBI search warrants has been charged. Earlier this week, defense attorney A.L. Brown, who is representing one of the people involved in the Feeding Our Future investigation, told Sahan Journal that complicated cases of alleged fraud involving raids of multiple locations “tend to move slower” on their way to indictments.
Chief among Bock’s arguments is that the federal money that flowed through her office to food sites and food distributors was reimbursement for meals already provided. Most of the people named on the search warrant work for for-profit food distributors like restaurants and grocery stores, she argued, so what they decide to do with that money afterwards is outside of her authority.
Shortly after the FBI raids, Bock disabled the online Feeding Our Future II fundraiser. GoFundMe took down the page after Sahan Journal queried the online fundraising company about the matter. A spokesperson for GoFundMe told Sahan Journal that the company’s “trust and safety team” is currently reviewing the fundraiser.
At the time donations for the online fundraiser were disabled, Feeding Our Future II had raised close to $74,000. Nearly 40 percent of these donations came from people with the same names as five men listed in the unsealed search warrants who allegedly participated in the scheme with Bock. Together, the five men donated a total of $29,000 to the fundraiser.
Among the names of the donors on the GoFundMe page are Salim Said, who contributed $6,000 to the GoFundMe campaign during the same month that Bock launched it. In the search warrants, the FBI identifies Salim Said as a co-owner of Safari Restaurant and Event Center who allegedly spent child nutrition money on a $950,000 Plymouth home and an $87,000 pickup truck.
The GoFundMe page also listed Abdulkadir Salah as donating $5,000 to the fundraiser in December. FBI search warrants allege Abdulkadir Nur Salah, another Safari Restaurant co-owner, controlled a Safari Restaurant bank account that received $6.2 million in federal child nutrition money from Feeding Our Future.
The FBI alleges that both Abdulkadir and Salim, along with Safari Restaurant associates Ahmed Ghedi and Abdihakim Ahmed, bought a $2.8 million Minneapolis mansion with federal child nutrition money to use as an office building.
The GoFundMe campaign listed Ahmed Gedi as donating $3,000 to the fundraiser in October and Abdihakim Ahmed as donating $10,000 in December.
The FBI alleges Abdinasir Abshir controlled a shell company that received more than $1 million in stolen federal child nutrition money from Feeding Our Future. A donor with the same name also gave $5,000 to the GoFundMe campaign in December.
Three people not named in the search warrant donated a total of $13,000 to the fundraiser, while 12 anonymous donors contributed nearly $32,000.
Last year, all five men also made campaign donations to Mayor Jacob Frey, and all except Abdulkadir contributed to state Senator Omar Fateh. Earlier this week, Omar’s campaign said it returned those donations and condemned any misuse of child nutrition money. Frey told the Star Tribune that he won’t keep the donations and is working with a lawyer to determine what to do with them.
Attorney General’s Office nixes the original Feeding Our Future’s ability to fundraise
Bock started the GoFundMe fundraiser for Feeding Our Future II on October 11, 2021. Two weeks later, on October 25, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office withdrew the original Feeding Our Future’s registration as a charitable organization. This move ended Feeding Our Future’s ability to solicit donations, according to a letter from the Attorney General’s Office sent to Bock that month.
Nonprofits in Minnesota must register with the Minnesota Secretary of State and the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. They’re also required to file annual 990 reports, which include disclosing comprehensive financial information, with both offices. Feeding Our Future did not submit its 990 reports for 2019 and 2020 to the Attorney General’s Office, according to the letter to Bock, prompting the withdrawal of its status as a charitable organization.
Kaeon Dousti, an outreach coordinator with the Attorney General’s Office, told Sahan Journal that Feeding Our Future finally submitted the registration documents for those years on January 28 —more than a week after the FBI raids. Dousti wrote in an email that Feeding Our Future’s required registration documents are no longer outstanding, but that the Attorney General’s Office couldn’t say whether the filings were accurate.
Ultimately, Bock said she and her staff decided that they did not need to use Feeding Our Future II to work with out-of-state food sites and could instead use the original Feeding Our Future.
Bock said Feeding Our Future had been in the process of working on food site applications to the child nutrition program with state agencies outside of Minnesota, but all of that work halted after last month’s FBI raids.