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Sunday, June 16, 2024

5 People Convicted, 2 Acquitted in Minnesota $40 Million Food Fraud Scheme

People convicted for food fraud scam in Minnesota

Nationwide — A Minnesota jury has found four men and one woman guilty in a scheme to steal over $40 million meant for feeding hungry children during the pandemic. The trial gained national attention due to an attempted bribe of $120,000 in cash delivered to a juror’s home.

The convicted defendants faced charges including wire fraud, conspiracy, money laundering, and federal programs bribery, according to the Associated Press.

Among those convicted were Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, and Hayat Mohamed Nur. Two others, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin and Said Shafii Farah, were acquitted.

The fraud scheme operated under the guise of Feeding Our Future, a Minneapolis nonprofit that received millions in aid from the USDA. The accused claimed they were running a legitimate charity providing meals.

However, prosecutors allege most of the funds were spent on luxury items such as sports cars, jewelry, property, and travel instead of helping needy children.

The defendants, all of East African descent, are the first of 70 individuals slated to stand trial for what prosecutors call one of the largest fraud cases exploiting the COVID-19 crisis. Over $250 million in federal funds were stolen in total, with only $50 million recovered thus far.

Moreover, this case gained national attention when an audacious attempt to bribe a juror was made. A woman delivered a Hallmark gift bag stuffed with $120,000 cash at a juror’s home the night before closing arguments were scheduled. She said it was a “present,” promising more money if the juror voted to acquit.

The juror was not home and reported the incident to the police immediately. The juror who received the bribe was dismissed, along with another who found out about the attempt.

US Attorney Joseph Thompson condemned the bribe attempt, calling it outrageous and likening it to scenes from mob movies. The FBI is investigating the bribery incident, but no arrests have been made yet.

Following the revelation of the bribe attempt, the judge ordered the seven defendants to surrender their phones for investigation. All 7 were handcuffed and led from the courtroom. Bribing a juror is a felony punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Meanwhile, 18 other people have pleaded guilty in connection to the broader $250 million fraud scheme. Aimee Bock, the founder of Feeding Our Future who is among those awaiting trial, has consistently proclaimed her innocence. She claimed she never engaged in theft and observed no signs of fraud among her subcontractors.