Another prominent Minnesota politician revealed Tuesday that he had received campaign contributions from people listed in federal search warrants issued in an investigation of alleged fraud against a child nutrition program.
State Senator Omar Fateh, a first-term Democrat representing south Minneapolis, said he returned 11 donations, seven of which came from people directly named in the search warrants. While no one has been charged as a result of the investigation, Omar condemned any misuse of food aid money.
“Today I must come out against members of our own Minneapolis business community for their role in stealing millions of dollars from children,” Omar said in a prepared statement. “To anyone who has participated in this scheme, or any scheme that exploits vulnerable people in order to enrich themselves, I want to make it clear that I will not help or support you or give you political cover. Furthermore, I do not want, and will not accept your support.”
The donations, which all came in the summer of 2021 and totaled $11,000, were first disclosed and filed in campaign finance reports Monday. Dawson Kimyon, campaign manager for Omar, told Sahan Journal that this is because the filing deadline for disclosing donations for the year 2021 with the state Campaign Finance Board was January 31. Melissa Stevens, a compliance officer with the Campaign Finance Board, confirmed this deadline to Sahan Journal.
“There were no other reports that were due during the year of 2021,” Stevens wrote in an email to Sahan Journal.
Six men named in the warrants also donated a total of $6,000 to Mayor Jacob Frey’s reelection campaign last year. Four of these same men also donated to Omar.
Kimyon said Omar and his campaign team found out the donors were tied to the alleged fraud when they read through three FBI search warrants, which were unsealed to the public on January 20.
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The seven donors to Omar listed on the search warrants are Salim Said, Ahmed Ghedi, Abdinasir Abshir, Ahmed Omar, Abdihakim Ahmed, Abdiwahab Mohamud, and Sahra Mohamed. Each donated $1,000 to Omar’s campaign. In addition, Kimyon said the campaign returned two more donations from people not named on the search warrant but who listed addresses or identified themselves as employees of companies named in the search warrants. Finally, Kimyon said the campaign returned two additional donations “out of an abundance of caution.”
In total, Omar returned $11,000 of the $41,000 he raised during 2021.
Kimyon said Omar is “devastated” by the allegations and did not know about them until the search warrants were released publicly.
Last summer, Omar attended a public event with Feeding Our Future Executive Director Aimee Bock and criticized the state Department of Education’s decision to pause funding for the nonprofit. Feeding Our Future works as a pass-through organization, administering the federal money for the food sites. The FBI search warrants allege that Feeding Our Future played a key role in the fraud.
The state paused funding to Feeding Our Future last spring after alleging that the organization’s auditing and bookkeeping wasn’t in compliance with government regulations. But the state eventually walked back this decision, and a judge ruled MDE in contempt of court for processing Feeding Our Future’s applications to the child nutrition program too slowly.
In a video of last summer’s event, Omar stated that he met with state officials about the state’s actions to pause the funding. That video, posted on YouTube by Xogmaal Media, a local independent Somali news outlet, was removed from public viewing one day after the search warrants became public. Kimyon said Omar did not request and was not part of the decision to remove the video.
Omar also addressed his support of the child nutrition program in his prepared statement.
“In 2021, I supported the USDA programs that were allegedly stolen from,” Omar said. “Providing free nutritious meals to kids in urban food deserts is something the state is morally obligated to do. Getting rich by exploiting those same children and using them as cover is the opposite of what I stand for, what the people elected me for.”
Frey also initially named one of the men to his community safety workgroup. Frey has since told the Star Tribune that he isn’t planning to keep the donations and is working with an attorney to decide what to do with them. Frey also said the man is no longer a member of the workgroup.
Additional reporting by Becky Dernbach.