Nonprofit drops suit against state amid FBI food fraud investigation

Published 6:21 am Thursday, November 10, 2022

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By Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News

A St. Paul nonprofit allegedly tied to a major food aid fraud scheme dropped its lawsuit against the state Wednesday. Partners in Quality Care had filed the suit in early September, alleging that the Minnesota Department of Education improperly cut off federal child nutrition program funding.

MDE stopped sending payments in January to Partners in Quality Care, also known as Partners in Nutrition, after the FBI searched two dozen homes and businesses connected to a similar organization, Feeding our Future.

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Federal prosecutors later charged 50 people with stealing $250 million in hunger relief funds from two U.S. Department of Agriculture food programs that MDE manages on the state level.

Neither Partners in Quality Care nor any of its employees have been charged, and attorneys for the organization did not respond to emails from MPR News inquiring about their decision to end the litigation.

At a court hearing last week, one of the defendants in the Feeding our Future investigation, Anab Artan Awad, 52, admitted that $3.7 million from Partners in Quality Care was part of the $9.3 million in federal funds that she misappropriated by falsely claiming to have served 1.5 million meals to children over a four-month period in 2021.

In a court document responding to the lawsuit, the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office, citing the federal indictments, estimated that at least $57.7 million “was funneled through PIQC to organizations operating to defraud MDE.”

Aimee Bock, 42, the founder and executive director of Feeding our Future and the alleged ringleader of the fraud scheme, previously co-founded Partners in Quality Care, but, according to the lawsuit, left Partners in 2018.

Also Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel, who’s overseeing the Feeding our Future cases, sentenced Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49, to seven months in prison for passport fraud.

Authorities seized Ismail’s passport during the January search. Soon after, on an application for a new passport, Ismail falsely claimed to have lost his old one.

Agents arrested Ismail on an MSP airport jetway in April as he tried to fly to Nairobi, Kenya. He’s been jailed ever since and has already served the sentence that Brasel imposed.

But because Ismail tried to flee the United States after the FBI informed him that he was a target of the food fraud investigation, Brasel ordered him to remain in pretrial detention as his case moves forward.