Feeding Our Future witness says he helped set up fake meal sites during the pandemic

Published 3:33 am Thursday, May 9, 2024

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By Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News

A former Feeding Our Future employee said in a federal courtroom in Minneapolis that he conspired with others at the Twin Cities nonprofit to steal money from government child nutrition programs. Seven people connected to a small Shakopee restaurant are the first to face trial in the sprawling case.

Hadith Yusuf Ahmed said he was the “right hand man” of Feeding Our Future founder Aimee Bock. Ahmed, of Eden Prairie, is among 70 people charged since late 2022 in the case, and was among the first of 18 to plead guilty. He agreed to cooperate with the government in the hopes of avoiding a lengthy prison term.

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Responding to questions from Assistant U.S. Attorney Harry Jacobs, the 35-year-old said he accepted a job offer from Bock in 2020 when the child care center he managed closed during the pandemic. Bock has pleaded not guilty in the case and is expected to face trial later with another group of defendants.

Ahmed said he and his coworkers at Feeding Our Future helped others set up fake meal distribution sites, for which they allegedly submitted fraudulent reimbursement requests.

Ahmed testified he expedited reimbursement requests by putting them at the top of the stack on Bock’s desk to ensure that she’d submit them quickly to the Minnesota Department of Education.

He set up a company called Mizal Consulting to conceal the kickbacks he received as consulting payments. He also admitted collecting more than a million dollars in fraudulent meal reimbursements through his own nonprofit Southwest Metro Youth.

The defendants in this case are all connected to Empire Cuisine and Market, a small restaurant in Shakopee that Abdiaziz Farah and Mohamed Ismail founded at the start of the pandemic.

As Ahmed testified, Jacobs displayed a series of five-figure checks from Empire to Ahmed with “consulting” written on the subject line. The prosecutor also had Ahmed walk jurors through emails that he sent to Bock about transferring meal sites from Partners in Nutrition — another nonprofit site sponsor — to Feeding Our Future. Ahmed said the site operators got “VIP treatment,” meaning that their fraudulent reimbursement requests would get priority.

The jury also got another look at some of the reimbursement requests, including a $1 million invoice from defendant Abdimajid Nur to Feeding Our Future for 245,000 meals Nur allegedly claimed were served to children at a Bloomington mosque and two other sites in just one month in 2021.

Ahmed described the office as “crazy” in 2021, with people who had no connection to education or child care submitting applications to open meal sites. During the pandemic the U.S. Department of Agriculture granted waivers to allow restaurants to participate in the food programs.

Ahmed said an organization would submit an application one day, and then claim the next day that they served 1,000 meals.

“There was money everywhere,” he said. “Feeding Our Future was a bank. You come and you get money.”

Ahmed testified that Bock fired him from Feeding Our Future in the spring of 2021. That was after the state education department lifted its stop payment order amid a lawsuit by Feeding Our Future.

Ahmed said he had a falling out with Bock after Ahmed refused to submit a backlog of reimbursement requests. After that, Ahmed testified that he went to work for the Free Minded Institute, a small nonprofit that also operated allegedly fake meal sites.

Defense attorney Steve Schleicher who represents defendant Said Farah began his cross examination of Ahmed Wednesday afternoon. Schleicher asked why Ahmed only began cooperating with investigators after the FBI raided Feeding Our Future’s offices in early 2022.