Massive fraud scheme uncovered: Millions embezzled from pandemic meals for children program

Feeding Our Future by is licensed under CBS News
MINNEAPOLIS, MN - In a shocking revelation, the Justice Department has uncovered a massive fraud scheme, exposing the theft of $250 million from a federal program designed to provide meals for children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This marks the largest Covid-19-related fraud discovered by investigators to date, leading to charges against 47 individuals involved in the deceitful operation.

The fraudulent scheme revolved around the exploitation of the federal child nutrition program, which was expanded during the pandemic to accommodate more organizations.

Individuals connected to the nonprofit Feeding Our Future established shell companies to divert funds meant for vulnerable children. They deceitfully claimed to operate meal distribution sites, deceiving authorities into providing reimbursements for meals that were never served.

Abdiaziz Farah, 35, who was charged in September 2022, owned Empire Cuisine and Market in Shakopee.

The other defendants on trial include his brother, Said Shafii Farah, as well as Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur.

Hadith Yusuf Ahmed, one of the 70 people charged in the case, and the first to plead guilty said he was the “right hand man” of Feeding Our Future founder Aimee Bock.

Bock has pleaded not guilty to charges and denied any wrongdoing and is expected to face trial later with another group of defendants.

The defendants knowingly submitted false claims to the Minnesota Department of Education, contributing to the misappropriation of over $240 million in federal funds.

To conceal their activities, the defendants conducted large wire transfers to overseas banks in China and Kenya, highlighting the global nature of the scheme and the lengths to which the perpetrators went to obscure the origins of the stolen funds.

“Feeding Our Future employees recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota,” the Justice Department said in a release. “These sites, created and operated by the defendants and others, fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed.”

During the trial proceedings, seven individuals connected to a small restaurant in Shakopee are currently facing charges.

Testimonies from witnesses, including a former Feeding Our Future employee turned cooperating witness, have provided crucial insight into the operation's inner workings.

Evidence presented during the trial, including checks labeled as "consulting fees" and emails detailing the transfer of meal sites, underscores the orchestrated nature of the fraud.

“There was money everywhere,” a former Feeding Our Future employee testified. “Feeding Our Future was a bank. You come and you get money.”

“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” said US Attorney Andrew M. Luger for the District of Minnesota. “These defendants exploited a program designed to provide nutritious food to needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter of a billion dollars in federal funds to purchase luxury cars, houses, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad.”

“The company went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds to sites under its sponsorship in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021,” part of the indictment reads. “In all, Feeding Our Future fraudulently obtained and disbursed more than $240 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds during the Covid-19 pandemic,” it continued.

Moreover, the trial has revealed that the stolen funds were used for luxury purchases, real estate acquisitions, and international travel.

Among the purchases were high-end vehicles, such as a Tesla and Porsche, as well as gold jewelry from Dubai. Additionally, properties, including a $1.1 million estate in Prior Lake, Minnesota, were acquired with the alleged ill-gotten gains.

As legal proceedings continue, over $66 million has been seized by the federal government, with 18 individuals already pleading guilty.

Additional testimonies from FBI agents and forensic accountants are expected to shed further light on the scale of the fraud and the individuals involved.
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