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

Two defendants in the Feeding Our Future food-aid fraud case pleaded guilty Tuesday to stealing more than $5 million in federal funds that were supposed to feed underprivileged children. 

Mohamed Ali Hussein and Lul Bashir Ali, who both live in Faribault, each admitted to one count of wire fraud and agreed to pay a combined restitution of more than $5 million, the amount they stole from the federal Child Nutrition Programs. 

Mohamed, 53, and Lul, 57, will also forfeit a car and three homes in Faribault that they bought with stolen federal money.  

“They’re taking their first steps to restore trust with their community and the state of Minnesota,” said Sellano Simmons, an attorney representing Mohamed and Lul. 

Federal prosecutors first charged Mohamed and Lul in March with a “felony information,” a charging method which signifies that defendants are expected to plead guilty. The charges said Mohamed and Lul defrauded the federal government between June 2020 and January 2022.

According to court documents: During the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mohamed enrolled the nonprofit, Somali American Faribault Education, (SAFE) as a food site in the Child Nutrition Programs. Mohamed had created the nonprofit years earlier and listed another nonprofit, Feeding Our Future, as the sponsor organization that would receive federal dollars and then disseminate them to his own organization. 

Feeding Our Future, which is at the center of the scandal, acted as a go-between and distributed hundreds of millions of Child Nutrition Program dollars to several smaller nonprofit organizations during the pandemic. Many, if not most, of the smaller nonprofits are accused of exaggerating about the number of children they fed or didn’t feed any at all so that the organization leaders could pocket the money for personal gain.

Mohamed claimed to serve meals to 2,500 children a day, seven days a week, through his nonprofit, but the charges say he actually served far fewer than that. 

Lul also enrolled her restaurant, Lido Restaurant, into the Child Nutrition Programs as a meal preparation site, listing Feeding Our Future as its sponsor. Lul claimed that Lido served meals to 1,600 children a day, which prosecutors say was a fabrication. 

Instead, according to prosecutors, Mohamed and Lul submitted fake attendance reports and fake invoices to the government in order to receive financial reimbursement.

Mohamed also paid Feeding Our Future employee Abdikerm Eidleh $100,000 in kickbacks so Feeding Our Future would enroll his nonprofit in the Child Nutrition Programs. 

A total of nine defendants in the case have now pleaded guilty in the case. Sixty defendants have been charged.

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...