Muse Mohamed is seen entering the U.S. courthouse in downtown Minneapolis for a pretrial hearing on May 5, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovland | Sahan Journal

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Muse Mohamed, a former campaign volunteer for state Senator Omar Fateh, was sentenced Monday to house arrest and two years of probation for lying to a federal grand jury.

Jurors convicted Muse, who is also Omar’s brother-in-law, in May of two counts of perjury for lying to a grand jury about how he handled absentee ballots for three voters during the 2020 August primary election. Muse was volunteering for Omar’s campaign at the time.

Muse, 31, spoke directly to U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel before he was sentenced, explaining how he never imagined becoming a part of the criminal justice system. Muse talked about raising his two young daughters, and how one with special needs was recently hospitalized for a month. Muse said he’s often felt physically, mentally, and emotionally ill over the last year since prosecutors filed charges against him.

“There are days I don’t sleep,” Muse said, his voice often breaking with emotion. “I always think about what will happen to me and how my family will survive if I’m taken away. Will my children know their father?”

About 50 supporters attended Muse’s sentencing in federal court; several greeted him warmly with smiles and handshakes after he was sentenced.

The typical sentence for Muse’s conviction ranges between 15 to 21 months in prison, according to a pre-sentencing report filed by a probation officer in Muse’s court case.

Muse’s attorney, Andrew Mohring, saw the probation sentence as a victory.

“Sometimes the court is able to see the humanity in people, and that is a good thing,” Mohring told reporters after the sentencing. 

Muse, dressed in a gray suit and black tie, declined to comment to reporters as he left court. 

Muse testified twice before the grand jury in the fall of 2021, telling them that he received three ballots directly from voters and that he hand-delivered them to the voting center as early votes. Muse said he did this using the agent delivery process, which exists to help special needs voters who can’t deliver their own ballots. 

Two of those voters testified at Muse’s trial earlier this year, saying they had never met him and never authorized him to handle their ballots. 

Brasel gave Muse a reduced sentence, citing his lack of criminal history and his “significant” history of posttraumatic stress disorder. Muse’s pre-sentencing report found that he suffers from PTSD because his father died in Somalia before Muse and his family immigrated to the United States as refugees.

Muse’s pre-sentencing report noted that he has no prior criminal history and “overcame a very difficult background in Somalia.”

According to the report: Muse immigrated to the United States at age 15 and performed well in high school, where he learned English. Muse eventually graduated from Metropolitan State University and is “currently helping to raise two children, including one with special needs.” 

Brasel sentenced Muse to two years of probation and six months of house arrest. He was also ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation and treatment. 

Before Brasel announced Muse’s sentence, she strongly condemned Muse’s lies to the grand jury. She emphasized that elections and election integrity are “more important than ever” in the current “extraordinary” political environment. 

She emphasized that Muse was given an opportunity to tell the truth more than once to avoid being charged. She also said one of the grand jurors “begged you to tell the truth” to avoid criminal prosecution.

“I’m extraordinarily disappointed that this is how the case turned out,” Brasel said. 

In arguing for probation, Mohring told the court that Muse’s crime was serious. Mohring said that he himself has volunteered as an election judge in Minneapolis since 1996, and that he would preside over a precinct as election judge again for Tuesday’s general election. But he questioned the value of sentencing Muse to prison.

Federal prosecutors sought a harsher sentence, because Muse’s false testimony to the grand jury led to “an improper termination of a felony investigation.” That federal investigation, according to the court filing, was looking into “who filled out the ballots and directed that they be submitted without voters’ knowledge.”

Prosecutors asked for a prison term of between two and two and a half years.

Mohring argued that the prosecution’s request was unwarranted because Muse could have invoked his Fifth Amendment rights at the grand jury, resulting in the same outcome for their investigation.

Brasel rejected the prosecution’s argument that Muse’s statements resulted in improper termination of an investigation, saying that she didn’t have enough information about the federal investigation. She said Muse was probably not the only person who knew where the three ballots came from.

Federal prosecutors accused Muse of taking the felony convictions “for the purpose of concealing the identity of the person or people who provided him with the fraudulent ballots.”

Prosecutors wrote in court documents that their goal in the ballot fraud investigation was not to prosecute Muse for lying to a grand jury, but instead, to “find out the truth” about the “three ballots that Mohamed submitted without the voters’ knowledge.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Svendsen repeated that argument in court Monday, adding that the alleged ballot crime “is still effectively going on” because of how Muse’s lies to the grand jury in 2021 impacted the investigation.

“Our position is that he’s covering for who gave him the ballots,” Svendsen said. 

After Muse’s first grand jury testimony in 2021, prosecutors called him back for a second testimony to “give him a second chance,” according to the prosecution’s pre-sentence filing. In his second testimony, Muse repeated his earlier testimony that he received ballots directly from the three voters.

Prosecutors wrote that this “wasted both the government’s and the grand jury’s time” and “resulted in the unnecessary expenditure of government resources.”

Brasel said she would like to see the ballot fraud investigation succeed.

“It’s the court’s strong preference that ballot fraud be investigated and prosecuted,” she said. 

She told Muse he was currently in a unique position to help the current investigation move forward.

“But I leave that for another day,” Brasel said. 

Muse’s conviction in May became a part of a state Senate ethics complaint filed against Omar, a Democrat, by seven of his Republican colleagues. Omar and his attorney testified over the summer before a Senate ethics subcommittee, saying that he didn’t know anything was “amiss, potentially” in his 2020 campaign and that he was “shocked” to learn of the case against Muse. 

“He did not direct any sort of criminal act or behavior to happen,” Omar’s attorney, Kristin Hendrick, testified at a June ethics hearing. “He did not condone anything, he did not encourage anything directly or indirectly to happen that was not above board.”

Omar’s former campaign manager and senate aide, Dawson Kimyon, invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer questions from the subcommittee that same month. The senate subcommittee eventually dropped the ethics complaint against Omar.

Muse is also the brother of Zaynab Mohamed, a Democrat running this year for state Senate to represent parts of south Minneapolis and Richfield. Zaynab is widely expected to win the election Tuesday.

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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...