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The FBI on Thursday raided the offices of Feeding Our Future, a St. Anthony-based nonprofit that since the start of the COVID pandemic has collected hundreds of millions of federal dollars marked for feeding disadvantaged children and adults.
In three search warrants unsealed Thursday, the FBI alleges that instead of feeding hungry children, Feeding Our Future and several of its contractors spent millions on expenditures including personal cars, junkets to places like Las Vegas, and real estate purchases as far away as Kenya.
Federal authorities allege at least three Feeding Our Future employees, including executive director Aimee Bock, committed the fraud.
“To date, the conspirators have stolen millions of dollars in federal funds,” the FBI said in the search warrant affidavit. “The scheme is ongoing.”
The Star Tribune reported that a series of FBI raids on Thursday included more than 200 law enforcement personnel searching more than a dozen locations tied to Feeding Our Future and its partners. The raids followed an eight-month federal investigation.
The unsealed search warrants also accuse several companies that worked with Feeding Our Future, including Safari Restaurant and Event Center, of defrauding the federal government.
Neither Bock, Feeding Our Future, or attorneys associated with the company responded to Sahan Journal’s phone calls, emails, and text messages seeking comment on the situation. No arrests or criminal charges have been filed in the alleged scheme.
The raid and federal probe follow more than a year of court battles between the nonprofit and state government. Last spring, Sahan Journal reported that the Minnesota Department of Education halted federal payments to Feeding Our Future and rejected new applications the nonprofit made to two federal programs that provide funding to feed needy children and some adults. A state judge, however, reprimanded the education department for pausing the payments. In a lawsuit against the state, Feeding Our Future claimed it was using federal funds to feed tens of thousands of children, the majority of them from immigrant communities, through dozens of nonprofits and afterschool programs.
The FBI says hardly any of the millions of dollars that Feeding Our Future administered actually went to children.
Below is a quick guide to the federal investigation, what Feeding Our Future is, how the company accessed the federal funds, and what to expect next.
inside sahan journal
Editor’s note: Why Sahan Journal is reporting on alleged fraud in the federal meals program.￼
What is Feeding Our Future?
Feeding Our Future has been around for five years. Its website lists 20 employees. Feeding Our Future’s stated purpose is administering federal food aid to several dozen smaller nonprofits, restaurants, daycare centers, and afterschool programs across the state which primarily serve needy immigrant children and children of color across Minnesota.
Where did Feeding Our Future get its money?
The nonprofit accessed money from the U.S. Department of Agriculture through two programs—the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program. Together, both programs spend more than $4 billion to provide food for 7 million children across the country.
Feeding Our Future applies for this federal money through the Minnesota Department of Education. The state education department acts as an intermediary between Feeding Our Future and the federal government. On top of this, the education department accepts or denies applications from Feeding Our Future for the federal money.
How much money did Feeding Our Future get from the federal government?
Bock founded Feeding Our Future in 2017. During 2019, the company got $300,000 from the the Child and Adult Care Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program. Feeding Our Future grew its revenue to $3.4 million in 2019. This money quickly ballooned once COVID-19 hit, to $43 million in 2020 and nearly $200 million in 2021.
Tell me more about the smaller organizations that work with Feeding Our Future?
Feeding Our Future worked with dozens of smaller companies and nonprofits, including religious centers, tutoring organizations, restaurants, all with the stated purpose of distributing food to children.
Some are familiar names, such as Safari Restaurant and Event Center, which Feeding Our Future said prepared food to be distributed to afterschool and daycare programs. Others, according to the FBI search warrants, appear to serve specifically as pass-through entities for defrauding the government. Most of these companies were incorporated in the last three years.
How did Feeding Our Future grow so rapidly?
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, most of the money from both federal programs went to public school districts for afterschool programs. But school shutdowns across the country prompted the federal government to be more flexible with this spending, and scores of nonprofits applied for the aid.
When did the FBI start investigating Feeding Our Future?
Last April, the Minnesota Department of Education gave information to the FBI alleging that Feeding Our Future was diverting federal money to use for illegal purposes. At the time, the state couldn’t prove these allegations. According to the search warrants, the Minnesota Department of Education didn’t have access to bank accounts from the companies that Feeding Our Future worked with.
The FBI opened an investigation in May.
Where does the FBI allege that Feeding Our Future actually spent this money?
The search warrants allege that Feeding Our Future spent much of this money on real estate, expensive cars, and luxury travel.
Feeding Our Future funneled federal money through dozens of shell companies that appear to have been established on the fly. “This activity appears to have been designed to launder the money fraudulently,” reads the search warrant.
Feeding Our Future allegedly sent $3 million in federal money to S&S Catering. Two people involved with that company subsequently spent $505,000 of this money on an apartment in Nairobi, Kenya, and $2.5 million on a commercial building on Lake Street, in Minneapolis, the FBI alleges.
Another example: Feeding our Future allegedly funded an Edina-based nonprofit called the ThinkTechAct Foundation (also known as the Mind Foundry Foundation), which claims to provide nutritional support and enrichment education in science, technology, engineering, and math, to low-income children.
ThinkTechAct received $16 million in federal food aid funding in 2021. More than $11.5 million of that money went to various companies affiliated with a firm called Empire Cuisine and Market, which was founded in Savage, Minnesota, in April 2020. And millions of those dollars were actually used to buy real estate in Minnesota and Kenya, the search warrant alleges.
Bank records show roughly $900,000 went to a property firm in Nairobi. Another $1.1 million went to purchase adjacent shorefront lots on Prior Lake, Minnesota, in July 2021. And $575,000 bought a home in Savage for a co-owner of Empire Cuisine and Marketing, according to the warrant.
The same co-owner of Empire Cuisine and Marketing allegedly sent himself $2 million directly. Empire Cuisine didn’t return Sahan Journal’s phone calls seeking comment for this story.
The warrant related to Empire and ThinkTechAct alleges other expenses, including $500,000 for custom home building, $14,000 for lawn care, and $4,100 for rooms at a Ritz Carlton hotel.
The search warrants also detail expenses on cars, including an $87,000 pickup truck. S&S Catering, one of the companies that said it provided prepared meals for the programs, allegedly spent $200,000 at car dealerships in 2021. The search warrants also allege that Bock spent $15,000 of the federal money at a car dealership for personal reasons.
As for lavish trips, the search warrants detail S&S Catering spending $49,000 on travel agencies, including to Amax Travel, which offers packages for people wanting to make the Hajj, an annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
How did Feeding Our Future and its partner companies get caught?
Apart from Feeding Our Future’s explosive growth during the pandemic, the sheer number of children Feeding Our Future claimed to serve raised authorities’ suspicion. Safari, for example, claimed it fed 5,000 children every day in July 2020.
The search warrant notes that that number seemed unbelievable for a restaurant, adding that it would amount to serving more kids than the total attendance of Wayzata High School, the largest high school in Minnesota.
Feeding Our Future also claimed a small one-story building in Minneapolis, which it operates independently, served 60,000 kids during November 2021.
To add to the grand scale, ThinkTechAct claimed it was feeding 106,000 children across 10 locations, according to Minnesota Department of Education records.
What are the consequences so far?
On Thursday, the state terminated its contract with Feeding Our Future, according to Minnesota Department of Education spokesperson Ashleigh Norris. That means no more federal money will go to the organization.
In a statement, Norris said the education department will still work with community organizations and other intermediaries similar to Feeding Our Future that use the two federal programs to feed children.
“Site operators who will be impacted by the termination of Feeding our Future’s agreement are encouraged to reach out to the Minnesota Department of Education,” she said.
How are people reacting?
Mekfira Hussein runs Shamsia Hopes, a nonprofit organization that she said feeds 6,000–7,000 children a week mostly from Somali, Oromo, and Hmong communities. Mekfira told Sahan Journal in May that the organization had been operating on a $200,000 to $250,000 weekly budget of federal funds that it received through Feeding our Future.
Mekfira said she had been receiving payments from Feeding Our Future up until last month—she was supposed to receive a payment on the day of the FBI raid.
“At some point we’re going to run out of funds,” Mekfira said. “This would absolutely impact the families relying on this food. Children are going to bed hungry. It breaks my heart.”
Mekfira’s name and organization did not come up in the unsealed search warrants. She told Sahan Journal that she has not been contacted or visited by the FBI or state authorities.
“It’s discrediting people who are actually doing their job. That is not okay,” Mekfira said. “People will steal from banks, but why would you steal from children?”
Sahan Journal contacted about 15 organizations that last year applied for federal money through Feeding Our Future. Most did not return requests seeking comment.
On Friday, State Representative Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, held a press conference denouncing Feeding Our Future.
Sahan Journal also reached out to Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman and state Senator Omar Fateh. Both appeared at a public event last year with Feeding Our Future and criticized the state for pausing payments.
Neither Jamal nor Omar returned phone calls and messages before press time seeking comment on the allegations and FBI investigation.
The public could watch a YouTube video about Feeding Our Future, in which executive director Aimee Bock spoke along with Jamal and Omar. On Friday evening, that video was made private.
Additional reporting by Andrew Hazzard and Hibah Ansari.