Representative Ilhan Omar joins other members of Congress in calling for an extension to Temporary Protected Status for Somali nationals in May 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

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Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s office says her campaign has donated to local food shelves the thousands of dollars in contributions it received from men alleged in FBI search warrants to have committed fraud against a federal program to feed children. 

In early 2021, two men named in recently unsealed search warrant affidavits donated a total of $5,400 to Omar’s campaign. The FBI affidavits list Ahmed Ghedi and Abdihakim Ahmed as associates of Safari Restaurant and Event Center. Both allegedly controlled shell companies that received $1.1 million in federal child nutrition money from a co-owner of Safari Restaurant. The two men separately helped two others buy a $2.8 million mansion in Minneapolis with child nutrition money to use as an office building, the FBI alleges. 

Ahmed donated $2,700 to Omar’s campaign on February 23 and Abdihakim gave the same amount to her on March 31. Federal prosecutors have not charged Ahmed or Abdihakim, nor anybody else named in the search warrants, with any crimes. 

Connor McNutt, Omar’s chief of staff, said the campaign recently donated the contributions to three local food shelves “out of an abundance of caution.” McNutt said the campaign made the donations after reviewing contributions following the unsealing of the search warrant affidavits last month.  

“We strongly encourage all other elected officials who have received donations from these named individuals to donate their contributions to local food assistance charities,” McNutt said in a prepared statement. 

Omar isn’t the only elected official to receive donations from people named in the search warrants. Both Ahmed and Abdihakim also donated last year to Minnesota state Senator Omar Fateh and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. In wake of the allegations, Omar Fateh returned the donations while Frey told the Star Tribune that he didn’t plan to keep the money and was working with a lawyer to decide what to do with it. 

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Omar donated her contributions to Sabathani Community Center, Shiloh Cares Food Shelf, and Division of Indian Work. “All of these charities provide food assistance, amongst other critical services, to several communities in Minneapolis,” McNutt said.

The allegations against Ahmed and Abdihakim come as part of a federal investigation aimed at  Feeding Our Future. That nonprofit administered money from two federal programs, the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program, passing it to other nonprofits like after school and daycare programs to feed underprivileged children. Aimee Bock, executive director of Feeding Our Future, denies any wrongdoing. 

The alleged fraud happened in 2020 and 2021, when the federal government vastly expanded the flexibility of food aid programs in response to school shutdowns across the country at the height of the COVID pandemic. Before then, most of this money went to public school districts.

The expanded flexibility in federal food programs came as a result of legislation that Omar sponsored in 2020, the MEALS Act. Fourteen other members of Congress co-sponsored the legislation to guarantee school lunches to children who rely on them while schools were closed. 

Altogether, Omar has said the legislation ensured 20 million children across the country were fed during the pandemic. 

Last week, Omar sent a letter to U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees federal food aid programs, asking him to “root out any possible future fraudulent use of federal funds.” 

“Evidence shows millions of children have benefited from these programs, especially during these unpredictable times,” Omar wrote. “However, recent investigations show that members of a non-profit organization located in my district stole and laundered over $200 million federal funds from the USDA for personal benefits, such as for real estate, trips, and luxury goods.”

Omar added that she was “appalled to learn of such heinous acts and the theft of resources strictly meant for our most vulnerable populations.” 

In the letter, Omar asked Vilsack what his department is doing to investigate fraud in food aid programs, what steps the department is making to recoup misused money, and whether any of it will go back to the communities that should have benefited in the first place.

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...