Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger (far right) holds a news conference on March 13, 2023, to address 10 new defendants charged in the alleged embezzlement of federal money earmarked to feeding needy children. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Federal prosecutors Monday brought charges against 10 more people accused of participating in a sprawling fraud to pocket millions of federal dollars intended to feed needy children during the pandemic. 

Sixty individuals are now charged in the alleged $250 million fraud ring centered around the now-defunct nonprofit, Feeding Our Future. Fifty defendants were charged last year. Six have pleaded guilty

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger held a news conference about 11 a.m. Monday to address the new charges.

“Our work is not done, and we expect to bring more charges in the future,” Luger said.

The defendants newly charged Monday are: Mohamed Ali Hussein of Faribault, Lul Bashir Ali of Faribault, Mulata Yusuf Ali of Minneapolis, Kawsar Jama of Eagan, Abdikadir Kadiye of Minneapolis, Abdulkadir Awale of Bloomington, Khadra Abdi of Minneapolis, Ayan Farah Abukar of Savage, Sade Osman Hashi of Minneapolis, and Sharon Ross of Big Lake.

Some of the defendants allegedly individually claimed between $1.1 million to $11.8 million in federal food-aid money, according to federal court documents.

The defendants are all believed to be in the United States; a few defendants charged last year attempted to flee the country, and others were abroad when they were charged.

Many of the defendants did not have an attorney listed for their case. A few defendants had attorneys who either declined to comment or who were unavailable for comment Monday. Sahan Journal also left a message with the federal public defender’s office; it’s unclear if any of the defendants are using the office’s services.

Luger said one defendant charged Monday allegedly purchased an “aircraft” using federal food-aid money. Court documents show that Abdikadir Kadiye, 51, of Minneapolis, put a $20,000 down payment on the laundromat.

Kawsar Jama claimed to have served more meals per day than the total population of the town she reportedly served, Luger said.

A presentation at Luger’s office showed a screen reading, “No food. No children. No food site. $3.7 million fraud scheme,” next to a map of the state with only the city of Pelican Rapids named.

“Population: 2,500,” the screen read under Pelican Rapids. “Claimed to serve an average of 2,560 meals/day.”

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger holds a news conference on March 13, 2023, to address 10 new defendants charged in the alleged embezzlement of federal money earmarked to feeding needy children. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Federal authorities have seized $66.6 million worth of assets, including $4 million worth of vehicles, in the cases against the 60 defendants, Luger said.

The case alleges that several nonprofits defrauded the federal government of money meant to feed underprivileged children. Instead of feeding children, the defendants allegedly embezzled the money and spent it on personal items including real estate, cars, and luxury vacations.

The new indictments mark the first new charges in the case since October 19. Luger said the investigation would continue when charges were first brought last September. Additional suspects were charged later in the year. 

Sponsor organizations like Feeding Our Future received the federal funds, and then distributed them to smaller groups—also known as food sites—that were supposed to feed children.

The alleged fraud reportedly played out in a simple fashion: Several organizations in the money chain reported serving thousands more meals than they actually did, or simply never served any at all, in order to receive more federal reimbursement dollars. Those funds were then passed through various shell companies before allegedly being pocketed by the perpetrators. 

Feeding Our Future executive director Aimee Bock was charged in September with wire fraud and conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery. Investigators say Feeding Our Future ran a pay-to-play scheme in which people operating fraudulent meal sites provided kickbacks and bribes to Feeding Our Future employees. 

Most defendants charged Monday had reimbursements approved under two sponsor organizations—Feeding Our Future and a group identified in court documents only as “Sponsor A”. However, previously filed documents from a lawsuit, search warrant affidavits, and a federal complaint filed in May 2022 show that Sponsor A is Partners in Quality Care, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that worked with food sites.

Luger did not dispute the characterization of Partners in Quality Care as “Sponsor A” Monday, but declined to comment further. No employees from Partners in Quality Care have been charged. Mark Weinhardt, a lawyer for Partners in Quality Care, declined to comment on the new charges.

Sade Osman Hashi 

Sade Osman Hashi, 45, was charged with five counts of wire fraud, three counts of federal programs bribery, and one count each of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery and money laundering.

Sade was the CEO of Great Lakes Inc., a group incorporated with the state in 2013. Sade served as CEO starting in November 2019. Great Lakes did business as Safari Express, which reportedly provided food to several other sites that were supposed to feed children.

According to the charges against Sade: He fraudulently claimed to provide meals to hundreds or thousands of children a day. Instead, he submitted false information, including repeat numbers for meals served, and received $5.7 million in federal food-aid money.

Sade allegedly paid Feeding Our Future employee Hadith Ahmed more than $150,000 in kickbacks so the organization would sponsor Safari Express as a food vendor. (Hadith was charged last year for his role and pleaded guilty in October.) Safari also worked under another organization identified in court documents only as “Sponsor A.”

Ayan Farah Abukar

Ayan Farah Abukar, 41, founder of Action for East African People, was charged with one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, and three counts each of federal programs bribery and money laundering. 

She founded Action for East African People in 2017, “providing health, housing, and educational services to East Africans throughout Minnesota,” according to the indictment. In 2021, Ayan was awarded the “outstanding refugee” entrepreneur award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services. 

According to charges: From October 2020 to January 2022, Ayan used her nonprofit to enroll food distribution sites and operated at least seven food sites that reportedly served or provided food to underprivileged children. However, Ayan, along with co-conspirators, submitted false and fraudulent information to receive federal funds for personal use. 

Ayan allegedly paid bribes and kickbacks to Feeding Our Future employee Hadith Ahmed, who pleaded guilty in the case last year, in exchange for the organization sponsoring Action for East African People. Her nonprofit allegedly received $4.6 million in federal food-aid funds under Feeding Our Future.

Her nonprofit also allegedly received $1.2 million in federal food-aid funds under a different sponsor, identified in court documents only as “Sponsor A.” Ayan and co-conspirators allegedly used millions of dollars for personal use, including approximately $1.5 million to purchase a 37-acre property in Lakeville, Minnesota, and $100,000 to purchase a Magnus airplane that was set to be delivered to Nairobi, Kenya. 

Ayan’s attorney, Debra Hilstrom, said they are reviewing court documents and declined to comment on the allegations. 

Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger holds a news conference on March 13, 2023, to address 10 new defendants charged in the alleged embezzlement of federal money earmarked to feeding needy children. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Mulata Yusuf Ali

From December 2020 to January 2022, Mulata Yusuf Ali, 38, allegedly aided and abetted others “knowingly and willingly,” to steal more than $1,000 from the federal government, according to charges. Mulata was charged via “information,” meaning they are expected to plead guilty in the case.

Mulata is listed as manager for Franklyn Transportation, which federal authorities have said was a shell company used to funnel federal funds. 

If convicted of the one of theft of government funds filed against them, Mulata would have to forfeit any property traced back to the federal funds. Mulata’s attorney declined to comment when reached Monday.

Mohamed Ali Hussein and Lul Bashir Ali

Mohamed Ali Hussein, 53,  and Lul Bashir Ali, 57, of Faribault are each charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in a “felony information,” which means the U.S. Attorney’s Office expects them to plead guilty.

Mohamed was the president and owner of Somali American Faribault Education, or SAFE. Lul was the owner of Lido Restaurant. Aimee Bock of Feeding Our Future worked with both to submit food site applications: Lul applied for Lido Restaurant in June 2020, and Mohamed applied for SAFE that November. Lido also had a contract to provide meals for SAFE. 

Mohamed claimed that SAFE was serving 2,500 kids a day, while Lul said that Lido was serving 1,600 children a day. However, the charging document states, they served very few meals and submitted fake attendance rosters and invoices. 

Altogether, Mohamed and Lul received more than $5 million in federal food-aid funds. The charging document also says that Mohamed paid $100,000 in kickbacks to Feeding Our Future employee Abdikerm Eidleh in exchange for the nonprofit’s sponsorship. Abdikerm was charged in the case last year.

“The government has initiated the criminal process against my clients,” said Sellano Simmons, the attorney for Mohamed and Lul, in an emailed statement to Sahan Journal. “We look forward to working with the Government to resolve this matter.”

Kawsar Jama, Abdikadir Kadiye, Abdulkadir Awale, and Khadra Abdi

The longest charging document unsealed Monday was a “superseding indictment” that replaced a charging document from September. The new indictment charges four additional people—Kawsar Jama, Abdikadir Kadiye, Abdulkadir Awale, and Khadra Abdi—of conspiring with people who were charged last year, including one person who pleaded guilty in November.

Federal authorities allege that the defendants charged Monday were part of a group that defrauded the federal child nutrition program of $50 million. (In September, before the four new defendants were named, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said this group was responsible for $25 million of fraud.)

Each new person named in the indictment operated a food site or claimed to be providing meals for the others’ food sites. However, federal authorities say, very few meals were actually served.

In his press conference Monday, Luger singled out Kawsar Jama, 41, as an example of how the alleged scheme operated. Through her businesses Gedo Community Services and Ahlan Childcare Center, Kawsar claimed to be operating several food sites. Luger zeroed in on her alleged site in Pelican Rapids, which has a population of about 2,500. 

“Ms. Jama claimed to be serving about 2,560 meals a day,” Luger said. “In case you haven’t done the math, that means she claims to be feeding everybody who lived in Pelican Rapids every day, whether they were children or not, whether they were needy or not.”

Not only was Kawsar not serving food, Luger said, “She did not even have a site in which she claimed to be serving food.” 

According to the indictment, she submitted a forged lease agreement to “Sponsor A” without the landlord’s knowledge or consent; she never rented nor occupied the property. The indictment also accuses her of paying someone to make up the names of children she supposedly fed.

Kawsar then allegedly misappropriated the federal funds for personal use, according to the charges, buying a Tesla Model X for $57,500, spending $158,000 on an Eagan residential property, and withdrawing $204,000 in cash, among other alleged expenditures.

According to the charges, Abdulkadir Awale, 50, and Khadra Abdi, 41, paid kickbacks to Feeding Our Future employee Abdikerm Eidleh. Abdikerm was charged in September.

Sharon Ross

Sharon Ross, 52, was charged with 10 counts of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering. 

Ross was the executive director of House of Refuge Twin Cities, a St. Paul nonprofit registered with the state in July 2021. Ross claimed to operate food sites across Minnesota, and was primarily sponsored by an organization identified in court documents only as “Sponsor A,” but did receive funding via Feeding Our Future. 

According to charges against Ross: She fraudulently claimed to provide meals to thousands of children daily, but was in fact submitting fraudulent invoices using fake meal counts and made-up names. One site Ross ran claimed to serve 10,085 meals a day in September 2021, but in reality fed very few children. All told, House of Refuge sites were reimbursed for $2.8 million in federal food-aid money. 

Ross allegedly worked closely with Hanna Marekgen, who ran a restaurant called Brava Cafe, as a food supplier. Hanna was one of the first people to plead guilty in the case in October. Ross is accused of funneling $642,000 to Hanna. One count of alleged wire fraud stems from a December 6, 2021 email from Ross to Partners in Quality Care with the subject line “Great is thy faithfulness—invoice from Brava.”

Federal investigators say Ross pocketed $387,000 in food-aid money and distributed $366,000 to family members. She is accused of using the money to buy a rental home in Willernie, Minnesota, pay off credit card debt and outstanding loans, and to  purchase personal vehicles. 

House of Refuge was approved to receive federal food aid funding via Feeding Our Future in June 2021, well after the Minnesota Department of Education had begun halting new applications via the group. State Senator Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, asked the state to approve House of Refuge’s application, Fox 9 News reported in October 2022. 

In a statement to Sahan Journal, Pappas said she was very disappointed in Monday’s revelations about House of Refuge, and called for accountability for those involved. 

Pappas said she was asked to contact the Minnesota Department of Education on the behalf of House of Refuge in the spring of 2021. She said she visited a House of Refuge site on May 26, 2021 in “due diligence,”  toured the site, and saw many volunteers preparing food for distribution. She made her request to the state shortly afterward in June. 

“This was months before any reports of fraud,” said Pappas’ statement. “As I was advocating for a local food program, I had no idea about any problems with Feeding our Future–nor about today’s revelations about House of Refuge. My interest was supporting the mission to feed children and families.” 

Ross’s attorney, Earl Gray, declined to comment when reached via phone Monday. Her first appearance is scheduled for March 23. 

Staff writers Hibah Ansari, Becky Z. Dernbach, and Katelyn Vue contributed to this report.

Andrew Hazzard is a reporter with Sahan Journal who focuses on climate change and environmental justice issues. After starting his career in daily newspapers in Mississippi and North Dakota, Andrew returned...

Alfonzo Galvan is a reporter for Sahan Journal, covering work, labor, small business, and entrepreneurship. Before joining Sahan Journal, he covered breaking news and immigrant communities in South Dakota,...