Five Somalis convicted in $40m Minnesota fraud scheme

Minneapolis (Caasimada Online) – A Minnesota jury convicted five individuals and acquitted two others on Friday for their involvement in a scheme that siphoned over $40 million from a program meant to provide meals to children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The case garnered considerable attention due to an attempt to bribe a juror with $120,000 in cash, leading to the juror’s dismissal before deliberations commenced. A second juror informed about the bribe was also dismissed.

The FBI continues to investigate this attempted bribe, but no arrests have been announced.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thompson condemned the bribery attempt as “an attack on our criminal justice system,” vowing a thorough investigation using all available resources.

Despite the scandal, Thompson expressed satisfaction with the fraud convictions, emphasizing the severe impact of the defendants’ actions.

The convicted individuals lied about providing millions of meals to Minnesota children during the pandemic, exploiting the crisis to defraud the state and steal tens of millions of dollars.

Thompson described their actions as not only criminal but also depraved and brazen. In contrast, defense attorneys argued that their clients delivered real meals to real people.

These seven defendants were the first to face trial among 70 individuals indicted in what federal prosecutors have dubbed one of the largest COVID-19-related frauds in the country.

The relaxed regulations designed to prevent economic collapse during the pandemic were manipulated, allowing more than $250 million in federal funds to be stolen, with only $50 million recovered.

The mechanism of the fraud

The fraudulent operation involved funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which were administered by the state through nonprofit organizations and other partners.

The accused allegedly submitted false invoices for meals that were never served, ran shell companies, laundered money, committed passport fraud, and accepted kickbacks.

According to federal prosecutors, only a small portion of the funds received through the Feeding Our Future nonprofit went towards feeding low-income children, with the majority being spent on luxury cars, jewelry, travel, and real estate.

The defendants faced multiple counts, including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and federal programs bribery.

Each was charged based on their specific roles and had individual legal representation, resulting in a mixed verdict from the jury.

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, and Hayat Mohamed Nur were found guilty on most counts.

Abdiaziz Farah considered a ringleader, faced the most charges and was convicted on 23 of the 24 counts against him. Said Shafii Farah and Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin were acquitted of all charges.

Defense and legal reactions

Following the verdict, Andrew Garvis, representing Aftin, acknowledged the case’s complexity and appreciated the jury’s thorough consideration.

Steven Schleicher, Said Farah’s attorney, expressed his client’s gratitude for the acquittal. Other defense attorneys either declined to comment or did not respond to requests for comments.

Sentencing hearings for the convicted defendants will be scheduled later.

This case is part of a broader issue highlighted in an Associated Press analysis, documenting how thieves nationwide plundered billions in federal COVID-19 relief funds.

Fraudsters potentially stole over $280 billion, with another $123 billion wasted or misspent, amounting to 10% of the $4.3 trillion disbursed by the government.

The Bribery Incident

The bribery attempt in this case further complicated the proceedings. After a juror reported the attempt, the judge ordered the surrender of all seven defendants’ cell phones for investigation.

All defendants were taken into custody, and the jury was sequestered.

According to an FBI affidavit, a woman delivered a gift bag containing $120,000 in cash to the “Juror #52” home in Spring Lake Park, urging the juror to vote “not guilty.”

The juror immediately reported the incident to the police. The list of people with access to juror information included prosecutors, defense lawyers, and the seven defendants.

Following the bribery incident, FBI agents conducted a search at Abdiaziz Shafii Farah’s residence.

While the FBI confirmed their presence in the city, they did not disclose any details about the search’s connection to the bribery investigation.

The federal charges for bribing or influencing a juror carry a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison, a potential outcome that is eagerly awaited by the public.

Eighteen additional individuals have pleaded guilty in the broader $250 million fraud scheme.

Among those awaiting trial is Aimee Bock, founder of Feeding Our Future, who maintains her innocence, asserting that she never stole and saw no evidence of Fraud among her subcontractors.