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Two former Minneapolis officials who served in a Democratic administration were among 48 people charged by the Justice Department this week for a “massive scheme” to embezzle over $250 million in federal funding during the COVID pandemic from a program that was supposed to feed underprivileged children.
The Tribune of the Stars in Minneapolis and other media outlets reported that Abdi Nur Salah, a former aide to Democratic Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Fray, and Sharmarke Issa, former chairman of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, were among those named. According to the newspaper, Salah registered a non-profit organization “Stigma-Free International” as a shell entity to illegally extract federal funds.
Issa created a business called Minnesota’s Somali Community and was a manager at Wacan Restaurant LLC., fraudulently receiving more than $7.4 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds that was supposed to be used during the COVID outbreak, the newspaper said.
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The Justice Department indicted the 48 defendants on counts of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and bribery in the “largest pandemic relief fraud scheme filed to date.”
“This was a brazen scheme of staggering proportions,” US Attorney Andrew M. Luger said in a news release. “These defendants exploited a program designed to provide nutritious food to children in need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead, they prioritized their own greed, stealing more than a quarter billion dollars in federal funds to purchase luxury cars, houses, jewels, and coastal tourist properties abroad”.
According to court documents, several people who worked with Feeding Our Future were also charged. That group allegedly set up sites in Minnesota and fraudulently received nearly $200 million in funds to allegedly distribute free meals to children in need.
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Court documents revealed that members of Feeding Our Future attempted to circumvent initial inquiries from Minnesota officials by claiming they were being discriminated against because of their race. They later filed suit in state court, claiming that the state was discriminating against the group’s leaders in East Africa.
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The Minnesota Department of Education, the state government entity responsible for overseeing the program, said that when they discovered the “unexplained growth” of Feeding Our Future, they alerted the FBI and other federal officials “until we could find someone to take control.” “. worrying about spending as seriously as we were.
But Feeding Our Future’s lawsuit was successful, and a state judge allowed payments from the program to continue until Aimee Bock, CEO of Feeding Our Future, who the Justice Department says oversaw the massive fraud scheme, withdrew the lawsuit after the FBI ordered a search warrant against the organization. in January 2022.
Brooke Singman of Fox News contributed to this report.