The founder of a Burnsville charter school, currently embroiled in a massive federal food fraud investigation, allegedly used his position with the school to steer money to businesses run by members of the school’s board.
Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, the founder and former executive director of Gateway STEM Academy, was named in a civil order brought by the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office (AGO). In that order, the AGO states that Farah and other Gateway Academy officers “failed to manage the business and affairs of Gateway as required by Minnesota law.”
Two other former Gateway officers were named in the order: Mahad Ibrahim and Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff.
According to the civil order, AGO investigators “uncovered evidence of self-dealing transactions by Farah as executive director and by Mahad Ibrahim and Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff as board members and successive board chairs. The transactions were not approved, much less discussed, by Gateway’s board.”
Ibrahim, who was a board member with Gateway Academy for over two years, ran Mind Foundry Learning Inc. (MFLI). This for-profit business reportedly provided some form of “after-school services” for students of Gateway Academy. Ibrahim’s company received $173,602.65 from Gateway while Ibrahim served on the school’s board; Farah signed the checks to MFLI.
Shariff, the board president of Gateway Academy for a time, operated a transportation company called A&E Logistics. Shariff’s business was paid $117,255 by Gateway over a period of four months while Shariff served as board president.
A restaurant Farah co-owned also received a few hundred dollars from Gateway for meals provided during staff training and school events.
The civil order, filed in Dakota County, says that Gateway Academy agreed to conduct an internal investigation and make necessary reforms to keep similar situations from happening in the future. All three former officers are no longer with the school.
Farah, Ibrahim, Shariff, and several others connected with Gateway Academy were previously indicted in 2022 for their involvement in the $250 million Feeding Our Future fraud that was unraveled by the U.S. Department of Justice.
That scheme was allegedly engineered by Aimee Bock, the founder and executive director of a nonprofit organization called Feeding Our Future.
Under the guise of feeding hungry children, Bock’s nonprofit received hundreds of millions of dollars in funds from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program via the Minnesota Department of Education. Feeding Our Future then dispersed these funds to organizations, restaurants, recruited partners, and shell companies across the state.
In turn, these organizations and partners fraudulently claimed to be feeding thousands of hungry children at “sites” across Minnesota. False attendance records, receipts, and other documentation were fabricated by both Feeding Our Future and their partners, according to the DOJ. Feeding Our Future submitted these documents to government agencies.
Instead of feeding hungry children, the recipients used the funds to purchase residential property, international trips, luxury cars, and even property in Kenya and Turkey. Feeding Our Future received millions in bribes and kickbacks from their partner organizations, the DOJ alleges.
In total, 60 individuals, the vast majority of whom are Somali, have been charged with participating in this scheme.
Farah “is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, federal programs bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, money laundering, and false statements in a passport application.”
Farah’s restaurant, Empire Cuisine and Market, allegedly received over $28 million in fraudulent funds. According to the Department of Justice, Farah used his restaurant as a site where he claimed to distribute meals to children.
Ibrahim “is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering.”
According to the Justice Department, Ibrahim’s companies “created dozens of sites throughout Minnesota, including in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Burnsville, Faribault, Owatonna, Shakopee, Circle Pines, and Willmar.” One of his companies received over $18 million in fraudulent funds.
Shariff “is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, federal programs bribery, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering.”