Exterior shot of the Diana E. Murphy United States Courthouse on May 5, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

A defendant in the Feeding Our Future food aid fraud case pleaded guilty Thursday afternoon to diverting federal funds towards personal purchases instead of using them to feed underprivileged children. 

Qamar Hassan, 54, pleaded guilty in federal court to money laundering and conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She was charged last September with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

She is the 11th defendant to plead guilty in the case. No defendants have been sentenced.

Under the terms of Qamar’s plea agreement, she will face a recommended sentence of 41 to 63 months in prison and pay $5.6 million in restitution. She will also forfeit properties purchased with the stolen money to the government.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel summarized Qamar’s actions: “You took money that you had received from Federal Child Nutrition Programs, either as a vendor or as a meal service site, and you used that money to buy property. It looked like legitimately owned property, and no one could tell it was the result of a crime.”

Qamar and her attorney declined to comment after her plea hearing Thursday. Four people came to the hearing to support Qamar: three women in hijabs and a man wearing a brimmed hat decorated with the stars and stripes of the American flag. He removed his hat at a court security officer’s request.

Qamar is one of 60 people charged with criminal activity in the federal investigation, which U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has described as the largest coordinated fraud for COVID-19 relief money during the pandemic.

Prosecutors allege that several organizations received federal funding earmarked to feed underprivileged children, and reported inflated numbers or completely lied about the number of children they served. The suspects then allegedly used the money to buy cars, houses, vacation property, and other items for themselves.

Qamar, who lives in Brooklyn Park, owned and operated S&S Catering, which acted as a food vendor for numerous food sites participating in the federal Child Nutrition Program during the COVID-19 pandemic. S&S Catering operated out of a Lake Street storefront in Minneapolis and received the federal money through two nonprofit organizations: Feeding Our Future and Partners in Quality Care. 

The nonprofits received the money directly from the federal government and funneled it down to food vendors and food sites. Food vendors were supposed to provide ready-to-eat meals to food sites, which then served them to children.

Feeding Our Future is at the center of the federal investigation and Aimee Bock, who ran the organization, is one of the 60 defendants. Federal authorities have not charged anyone from Partners in Quality Care. 

Between August 2020 through December 2021, S&S Catering claimed to prepare more than 8 million meals for underserved children and received more than $16 million from the federal government, as both a food site and a vendor for other food sites. Federal prosecutors say S&S Catering prepared only a fraction of the meals. 

Qamar submitted false invoices to food sites purporting to supply them meals that were never provided. The invoices consisted of fake meal counts for each day, according to the indictment. These daily meal counts totaled thousands of meals every day, and contained nearly identical numbers every day.

The food sites, in turn, submitted fake attendance records of children who purportedly ate the meals to Feeding Our Future for compensation from the federal government. They did this, the indictment said, by making up names of fake children, sometimes using an online random name generator.

Qamar transferred more than $800,000 of the money received by S&S Catering into her own bank account and spent it for personal items, including $60,000 on a 2021 Jeep Wrangler, $20,000 on a 2020 Range Rover, and $114,000 on a Brooklyn Park townhome. 

Qamar also spent $345,000 on an apartment in Nairobi, Kenya. She spent $2.3 million on a commercial building on Lake Street and $70,000 toward the purchase of another commercial property on Lake Street with the financial help of other defendants charged in the case. The federal government has filed forfeiture for the properties.

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. He has been a journalist for 15 years. Before joining Sahan Journal, he worked for close to a decade in New Mexico, where his reporting prompted the resignation...

Becky Z. Dernbach is the education reporter for Sahan Journal. Becky graduated from Carleton College in 2008, just in time for the economy to crash. She worked many jobs before going into journalism, including...