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If you are a regular reader of Sahan Journal, you probably have seen one or two stories on our website about the alleged misuse of millions of dollars in federal funds intended for feeding disadvantaged children and adults in Minnesota.
Our coverage of this sprawling story has focused on nonprofit organizations, businesses, and key people who received money through a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future, which administers the federal meals program. (We have written an explainer about Feeding Our Future and how this program has worked.)
Apparently, some people in my community, the Somali community, see our work as a threat. My family members have received phone calls from people who don’t want us to keep reporting on these allegations. Some of these people are connected to individuals accused of misusing millions of dollars in federal funds.
Let me make one thing clear. Sahan Journal provides a wide range of news stories about breakthroughs in education, business, and civic engagement—and we love to report them. But we are here to provide you with comprehensive news coverage. Sometimes that means drawing attention to stories that some people want to keep hidden.
I have been a reporter for more than a decade, and during those years I’ve learned a few things: If you are someone who cannot endure critical news reporting, don’t run for public office. Don’t become a public figure. Don’t start a nonprofit or receive public funds if you cannot manage them well. Put simply, don’t do anything that you have good reason to believe is illegal.
more about the federal food fraud investigation
Now I no longer do daily reporting. But I oversee a nonprofit news organization dedicated to telling the truth, and providing exceptional reporting for Minnesota’s communities of color.
For many decades, local news media wrote about communities of color, instead of for them. We’ve been left out of newsroom leadership and ignored by advertisers. It’s uncommon for a news source like Sahan Journal to have the resources and trained, talented reporting staff to pursue investigative reporting like this. We also have the grounding in our communities to report these stories differently.
If Sahan Journal doesn’t investigate and write these stories, other media will. And once again, they will be stories about our communities. More dramatic revelations are probably coming. Isn’t it better to be honest with ourselves?
We will continue to highlight and chronicle the successes and achievements of our diverse communities, as we have over the three-year lifespan of this news organization.
We will also write about cases in which people from our communities stand accused of misappropriating public money earmarked for feeding low-income children.
There are dozens of legitimate organizations and businesses that have provided tens of thousands of free meals during the pandemic.
This alleged food fraud has been an open secret in my community. I have been hearing about these allegations for almost two years. On the phone or at a gathering, people would mention certain individuals who run nonprofits and businesses associated with meal programs. These people were seen driving new luxury cars, or purchasing homes and real estate. It was a story that was too good (or too bad) to be true.
But as a professional news organization, we are not in the business of reporting on rumors or hearsay. Eventually, however, we found an opportunity to write about this meal program when a reader reached out to us about a legal dispute between Feeding Our Future and the Minnesota Department of Education. (The state has acted as an intermediary between Feeding Our Future and the federal government. Local nonprofits have accessed funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through two programs—the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program.)
Sahan Journal was the first news outlet to report on this dispute. We profiled Shamsia Hopes, a nonprofit that gave free meals to children—mostly kids who are Oromo, Somali, and Hmong.
Eight months later, 200 law enforcement personnel raided more than a dozen locations tied to Feeding Our Future and its partners. In unsealed search warrants, the FBI alleges that instead of feeding hungry children, Feeding Our Future and several of its partners spent millions on expenditures including personal cars, junkets to places like Las Vegas, and real estate purchases as far away as Kenya.
Sahan Journal reporters started sifting through hundreds of pages of the unsealed documents. We started talking to community members, and reached out to key people mentioned in the court documents. Our stories have reported on a city council member’s past involvement with an organization named in the document. We’ve identified individuals named in search warrants who made donations to the campaigns of elected officials.
We wrote about the director of a charter school who took a leave of absence shortly after the FBI alleged he was involved in food-aid fraud. A senior aide to the Minneapolis mayor resigned after we inquired about his alleged involvement in the meals program misappropriations.
We continue to uncover information about this alleged fraud that you won’t find on other news sites. We have deep ties and trust in our communities that we have built in the last three years. We will continue to call for accountability from public figures, elected officials, nonprofits leaders, and government institutions.
Is the FBI, or the Minnesota Department of Education, discriminating against Somalis? Some nonprofit leaders have called and written us to share that opinion. Is the government turning a blind eye to other organizations that also may have misused funds claimed through the federal meals program? Is MDE at fault here? Those are all good questions that we will try to answer as we gather the facts.
Our reporting into this alleged fraud is just beginning. As the founder and head of Sahan Journal, I promise to you that our reporters will report the news: fairly, responsibly, and accurately.
I’ve written many stories over the years that upset powerful people, and I have never been afraid for my safety. Now, my family members say they are afraid for me. If you have been involved in this scandal or are close to someone who is, please do not drag my family into this.
As for me, journalism is what I know best, and I am not going anywhere. Sahan Journal will still be here when these allegations fade from the headlines.