The U.S. Courthouse in downtown St. Paul on the afternoon of April 25, 2022. Credit: Joey Peters | Sahan Journal

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A fifth defendant in the federal food-aid fraud investigation pleaded guilty Friday, crying in court before admitting that she stole millions of dollars meant to feed underprivileged children. 

Anab Awad, 53, admitted to committing fraud in the federal food-aid program and pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud. Two counts—conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering—were dropped as part of her plea. She initially pleaded not guilty to the three counts in September.

Anab also pleaded guilty Friday to unrelated charges of Medicaid fraud that she committed in 2015 and 2016.

Anab and federal prosecutors agreed to a prison sentence of either between about three-and-a-half years to a little over four years, or between a little over four years to just over five years.

Anab ran a nonprofit called Multiple Community Services. Federal prosecutors say she used the nonprofit to run five food sites that fraudulently received a total of $11 million in federal food-aid dollars. Anab admitted to stealing $9.3 million from the total amount, and agreed to pay the amount back in restitution.

Anab allegedly used food-aid money for personal purchases, including $69,400 for a 2021 Dodge Ram 1500 pickup truck. 

Anab, who has been held in the Sherburne County jail since September, appeared in court in a neon green jumpsuit. She had been out on bond in another unrelated federal fraud case, but authorities revoked the bond when she was indicted in the food-aid fraud investigation. 

More than a dozen family members and supporters showed up to support Anab. Several quietly wept throughout and after her hearing. 

When U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud asked Anab how she was doing, her voice broke as she responded through her interpreter.

“I’m feeling depressed,” she said. 

Anab’s indictment says her non-profit received the money through “Sponsor A.”

The Minnesota Department of Education distributed the federal food-aid money to sponsor organizations, which disseminated it further to smaller organizations like Anab’s nonprofit. The smaller organizations were then supposed to use the money to feed underprivileged children.

Documents from a lawsuit, search warrant affidavits, and a federal complaint filed in May show that Sponsor A correlates with Partners in Quality Care, a St. Paul-based sponsor organization. A previous charge and search warrant affidavits in the case also directly named Partners in Quality Care as an organization that food sites allegedly used to fraudulently obtain food-aid money.

No one who works for Partners in Quality Care has been charged in the case, which includes 50 defendants.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Ebert referred only to “Sponsor A” in court Friday, confusing Anab when he asked her whether she received money fraudulently from “Sponsor A.”

“What is Sponsor A?” she asked. 

Much of the attention in the food-aid fraud investigation has centered on another sponsor organization—Feeding Our Future, which allegedly took kickbacks from food sites in exchange for enrolling them in federal food-aid programs. Anab’s guilty plea is the first in the case involving Partners in Quality Care.

Anab appeared confused by some of the questions Ebert asked her in his attempt to solicit enough information to enter the guilty plea. When asked whether she faked attendance record names that didn’t match the names of students enrolled in Faribault Public Schools, she initially responded that she did not know anything about the school district.

Anab’s attorney Joe Dixon, asked the judge for a moment to speak with her. As they spoke, Anab began crying, prompting the court to break for a 10-minute break so Anab could confer with her attorneys. 

When the hearing resumed, the judge accepted Anab’s plea. Afterwards, she was remanded back to the Sherburne County jail and escorted out of court by law enforcement.  

The alleged fraud was simple at its foundation: Some organizations along the money chain reported serving more meals than they actually did in order to receive more federal reimbursement dollars.

Prosecutors say more than $57 million of the estimated $250 million embezzled from the federal government went to food sites using Partners in Quality Care as a sponsor. Prosecutors also allege in court documents that a former employee and board member of Partners in Quality Care received kickbacks from food sites as part of the scheme; they have not charged him with a crime. 

Anab founded Multiple Community Services in 2016. State records show that the nonprofit is registered in northeast Minneapolis and was involuntarily dissolved in 2018, but then reinstated in September 2020. 

According to her indictment, Anab started receiving food-aid money in January 2021 by submitting fraudulent meal counts, fake attendance records, and fake invoices to Partners in Quality Care. She did this by using five food sites scattered across Minneapolis, Osseo, and Faribault. She claimed to serve a total of 3.8 million meals in 2021 and 2022. 

Anab reported that her Minneapolis food site fed roughly 12,600 meals to children every day from January through April of 2021, according to her indictment. Prosecutors allege that the food vendor she reported using for the Minneapolis site didn’t actually provide food during that time period. They also allege that the food vendor for Anab’s Faribault site in January 2022 did not provide food at that time. 

Anab’s indictment also accuses her of faking attendance rosters for 2,010 children at her Faribault site. The indictment says none of the names match the names of students attending Faribault public schools. Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger has previously alleged that people involved in the food-aid fraud scheme used online name generators to come up with fake children’s names to report in their attendance records.

Federal prosecutors separately charged Anab last year with Medicaid fraud. She was part of a group that allegedly billed Medicaid $5 million between 2013 and 2017 for mental health and medical language interpreter services that were never performed.

Anab also pleaded guilty in that case Friday, and admitted to taking more than $95,000 for herself between 2015 and 2016.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the total amount of money allegedly stolen from Medicaid by a group that Anab Awad was working with.

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...