EXCLUSIVE: Metro counties paid organizations connected to food fraud defendants

It was previously reported that roughly half of the federal Feeding Our Future defendants had additional state contracts, raising concerns among state legislators. Alpha News investigated whether this phenomenon also extended to the county level.

Left: Ayan Abukar/Action for East African People; Right: Sharon Denise Ross/House of Refuge Outreach

Hennepin County gave over $140,000 to organizations connected to an alleged fraudster, according to documents obtained by Alpha News.

Ayan Abukar was the executive director of Action for East African People (AFEAP) in Bloomington, Minn. This organization was a nonprofit with the goal of “promoting the grassroots advancement and cultivation of the East African (EA) community.” On the former website for AFEAP, Abukar is described as a “compassionate” person who “has worked for decades to help underserved communities in the Twin Cities.”

In 2021, Abukar won an “outstanding refugee” award from the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

However, AFEAP shut down sometime in 2022 or 2023, and Abukar was indicted in March of 2023 for her role in the $250 million Feeding Our Future fraud.

According to the U.S. Justice Department, Abukar claimed to be feeding up to 5,000 children per day with federal funds she received via the Minnesota Department of Education and a nonprofit called Feeding Our Future. In total, Abukar received $5.7 million in fraudulent funds, the DOJ alleges.

Instead of feeding hungry children with those funds, Abukar allegedly bought millions of dollars worth of property, including commercial property in Lakeville, Minn. Furthermore, Abukar put down “hundreds of thousands of dollars” on an airplane that was set to be delivered to Nairobi, Kenya, according to the DOJ.

Abukar is charged “with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, three counts of federal programs bribery, and three counts of money laundering.”

The U.S. Justice Department claims that Abukar participated in this scheme from “October 2020 through 2022.” During that time, Abukar’s Action for East African People (AFEAP) signed two contracts with Hennepin County.

The first contract covered a time period of Sept. 28, 2020 to Dec. 30, 2020. In that contract, AFEAP received a one-time payment of $10,000 from Hennepin County to provide COVID-19 “Outreach Services” to East African groups in the county. Specifically, the contract stipulates that AFEAP will “Engage individuals, families, and community organizations to prevent the spread of COVID-19” within the target demographic.

Abukar signed the contract on Nov. 16, 2020. Why the contract was signed in the middle of the contract’s term was not immediately clear.

AFEAP also had a second contract with Hennepin County for $5,000. This contract paid AFEAP to assist in efforts to “dismantle the stigma of mental health within the Somali community.” This contract was signed on Sept. 8, 2022 by the former manager of Action Care Community Clinic (ACCC), which was affiliated with AFEAP. According to the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits website, ACCC “operates under the leadership of Action for East African People, a local 501(c)(3) nonprofit.” One of the contracts says AFEAP did business as ACCC.

U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announces charges against 47 individuals in the Feeding Our Future scandal in September 2022. (Department of Justice/YouTube)

Additionally, Alpha News discovered Hennepin County signed a contract with Ebyan Adult Day Center, an LLC that was incorporated by Abukar, according to the Minnesota Reformer. She is listed as one of the center’s registered agents on a business filing with the Secretary of State’s Office, which describes the status of the business as “inactive.” In the contract, which lasted from Nov. 1, 2014 to June 30, 2019, Hennepin County paid Ebyan Adult Day Center to provide “adult day care services … for adults with developmental disability or related conditions.”

Hennepin County declined to comment apart from confirming that it paid Ebyan Adult Day Center a total of $127,696 throughout the duration of the near five-year contract.

Ramsey County

Hennepin County was not the only jurisdiction to sign a contract with a defendant in the Feeding Our Future scheme. Sharon Ross, the executive director of Evangelist Temple House of Refuge Outreach Ministries (ETHROM), signed a September 2020 contract with Ramsey County for $108,497. ETHROM operated under a variety of different names, including House of Refuge and House of Refuge Outreach Twin Cities, according to the federal indictment against Ross.

In the 2020 contract signed with Ramsey County, Ross’s organization received $108,497 to set up a computer lab. According to the contract, ETHROM received the money to “provide opportunities for Hmong and Spanish speaking residents in Ramsey County impacted by COVID-19 to have access to computers for online job search, tools, and resources.”

When reached for comment, Ramsey County said: “The contract was for a short period of time, Sept. 23, 2020 through Dec. 30, 2020. The scope of services was to set up a computer lab for Hmong and Spanish speaking residents of Ramsey County. Two site visits occurred where it was verified contract work was occurring and completed (October and December 2020). Invoices were submitted, approved, and paid per the contract terms. Monitoring was completed and we closed the contract at the end of 2020.”

In March of 2023, Ross was indicted by the U.S. Department of Justice for her role in the Feeding Our Future scheme. According to the DOJ, Ross fraudulently received $2.8 million in federal funds from October 2021 to January 2022. In her role as executive director of ETHROM, Ross claimed she was feeding thousands of children at her organization’s sites. Instead, Ross used the money on vehicles, property, and payments to family, according to the DOJ.

Alpha News submitted data requests regarding Feeding Our Future suspects to all seven counties that are a part of the Twin Cities metropolitan area. Anoka, Carver, Dakota and Scott counties all said they did not have any responsive data. Washington County has yet to respond.

In August, the Minnesota Reformer reported that roughly half of the Feeding Our Future defendants had additional state contracts. At that time, the minority leader of the Minnesota House of Representatives, Rep. Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said, “The overlap between the Feeding Our Future fraudsters and businesses contracted with state agencies like DHS is disturbing and needs to be immediately investigated.”

“It is inexplicable why this scandal hasn’t been taken more seriously and why there hasn’t been clear steps taken to ensure these fraudsters are not also defrauding other state programs,” Demuth added.

The Feeding Our Future 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, the DOJ alleges. 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. Sixteen defendants have pleaded guilty thus far.


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.