U.S. Attorney for District of Minnesota Andrew Luger announces charges Tuesday in a massive alleged fraud scheme centered around the group Feeding Our Future. Credit: Ben Hovland | MPR News

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Federal prosecutors charged a 50th defendant in the food-aid fraud investigation that authorities call the nation’s biggest COVID-19 relief fraud.

Abduljabar Hussein, 42, was charged Wednesday with one count each of wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering. He is married to Mekfira Hussein, who was charged in September with bribery for allegedly committing fraud under the nonprofit she founded and runs, Shamsia Hopes.

Shamsia Hopes acted as a food site and received federal food-aid money in 2020 and 2021 through its sponsor, Feeding Our Future, which is at the center of the federal investigation. Abduljabar ran Oromia Feeds, which acted as a vendor that provided food to Shamsia Hopes. Shamsia Hopes then distributed the food for free to underserved children. 

Federal prosecutors allege that both organizations siphoned millions of federal food-aid dollars fraudulently and used much of that money for personal uses. 

Abduljabar made a brief appearance in court Wednesday afternoon, and was released after he agreed to surrender his passport and not leave the state. Abduljabar was appointed a federal public defender provisionally for the day and has not yet entered a plea. 

Dressed in a dark blue hoodie, gray sweatpants, and black and white Adidas, the soft-spoken Abduljabar said little in court. Mekfira, who was also released after her court hearing last month, and her attorney, Jason Steck, attended Abduljabar’s hearing.

Abduljabar and his attorney for the day, federal defender Matthew Deates, declined to comment after his hearing. 

The indictment against Abduljabar also adds wire fraud and money laundering charges against Mekfira.

‘In a state of shock’

Speaking for Mekfira, Steck told Sahan Journal that Mekfira did not commit fraud. Instead, he said, Mekfira is the victim of a Feeding Our Future employee who allegedly took kickbacks by enrolling organizations into federal food-aid programs. 

“She didn’t do anything,” Steck said. 

Steck does not represent Abduljabar, and did not address the allegations against him. However, Steck said Abduljabar and Mekfira are “in a state of shock.” 

“This came out of nowhere for them,” Steck said. 

Abduljabar was in Ethiopia last month visiting his ill father when Mekfira was charged. Steck said Abduljabar flew back to the United States knowing he’d probably be charged based on the allegations against Mekfira.

The Shakopee couple are part of a larger investigation surrounding Feeding Our Future, the nonprofit that distributed federal food-aid money to smaller organizations that were supposed to feed underprivileged children and adults in daycare and afterschool programs.

The Minnesota Department of Education served as the first local distribution point for the food-aid money. It reviewed the number of meals organizations like Shamsia Hopes reported serving, and then disseminated the money to sponsors like Feeding Our Future to distribute further.

The alleged fraud was simple at its foundation: Some organizations along the money chain reported serving more meals than they actually did—or completely invented their numbers without ever serving meals—in order to receive more federal reimbursement dollars.

The indictment against Abduljabar alleges that Shamsia Hopes received $7.8 million in federal food-aid money. Mekfira allegedly transferred most of this money to Oromia Feeds. Abduljabar and Mekfira then allegedly used some of the money to pay for luxury cars and the mortgage on their home.

Oromia Feeds allegedly received an additional $1 million in food-aid money.

“Oromia Hopes spent only a small fraction of that money on food,” the indictment reads. 

The indictment also alleges that Abduljabar and Mekfira paid kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee in exchange for Feeding Our Future enrolling their businesses into federal food-aid programs. Prosecutors allege that Abduljabar paid more than $60,000 in kickbacks to shell companies run by Feeing Our Future employee, Abdikerm Eidleh. They also allege Mekfira paid more than $80,000 in kickbacks to Abdikerm, who was indicted of wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery in September and who is believed to be in Somalia.

The indictment alleges that Abduljabar deposited $2.3 million of food-aid money into an Oromia Feeds bank account throughout 2021. It also alleges that Mekfira deposited $5.2 million in food-aid money into a Shamsia Hopes bank account throughout 2021. Much of that money came from Feeding Our Future.

The indictment alleges that Abduljabar and Mekfira spent food-aid money on personal uses. These include a wire transfer of more than $173,000 that Abduljabar allegedly made from Oromia Feeds to PennyMac to pay off their mortgage. They also include a $93,250 check Mekfira allegedly wrote from Shamsia Hopes for a 2021 Porsche Cayenne and a $61,722 check Abduljabar allegedly wrote from Oromia Feeds for a 2022 GMC Sierra Truck. 

Steck said the Porsche was a company vehicle. 

“They were for her business and they’re still being used by her business,” Steck said. “It’s not like this was a personal benefit.”

He emphasized that federal prosecutors have not listed the Porsche for forfeiture, and that Shamsia Hopes is now trying to sell the car. 

Asked why Shamsia Hopes needed an expensive vehicle, Steck said, “The business needs a vehicle, and they frankly wanted a vehicle that would hold its value. So they bought a brand name vehicle because it would hold its value.”

The initial charges against Mekfira last month also accused her of buying a Tesla with food-aid money. Steck said that the Tesla was for personal use, and that Mekfira used the Shamsia Hopes bank account to buy it but quickly reimbursed the business with her personal money. He emphasized that Shamsia Hopes is a longstanding nonprofit that’s been around since 2015 and provides multiple services beyond serving kids meals.

Mekfira told Sahan Journal in May 2021 that her nonprofit began serving food in the fall of 2020.

Mekfira has held prominent roles in the local Oromo community. She previously served as president of the Oromo Sports Federation of North America, a St. Paul-based sports club. She also helped Minneapolis city officials organize Oromo Week this past summer, which included the city projecting the colors of the Oromo flag–red and green–onto bridges in Minneapolis.

Steck alleged that Abdikerm, who he described as “the common factor” in the investigation, scammed Mekfira and others. 

“Not every document that appeared to be coming from my clients up to Feeding Our Future and ultimately to MDE [Minnesota Department of Education] was actually from them. Some of those, we think, were altered by [Abdkerm] Eidleh for his own purposes,” Steck said. “When all the evidence comes out, it’s going to be very clear that my clients are not co-conspirators with Eidleh—they are victims. 

Abdikerm is believed to be in Somalia and does not have an attorney publicly listed for his case.

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...