Three defendants pleaded guilty Thursday to their roles in the $250 million Feeding Our Future scheme.
They along with 46 others are accused of defrauding the federal government of millions of dollars intended to feed hungry children and instead using it on personal expenses.
For instance, Hanna Marekegn admitted Wednesday to using funds from the fraud to purchase a $1.2 million home in Medina, KARE 11’s Lou Raguse reported.
According to her guilty plea:
“Marekegn enrolled her company, Brava Cafe, in the Federal Child Nutrition Program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. In her application, Marekegn claimed that she would be serving meals to up to 4,000 children per day at her restaurant in Minneapolis. In reality, Marekegn had neither the ability to prepare and serve that many meals each day nor that number of children to feed. Marekegn submitted fraudulently inflated invoices for reimbursement in which she claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day. In support of these fraudulent claims, the defendant prepared and submitted fake paperwork, including falsely inflated meal counts. Marekegn also participated in the Federal Child Nutrition Program as a vendor and paid kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee in exchange for the nonprofit’s sponsorship of her company. In total, the company claimed to have served over 2 million meals to children between September 2020 and fall 2021 and obtained approximately $7.1 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.”
Additionally, Marekegn said in court Wednesday that while she did pay $150,000 in kickbacks, Feeding Our Future suspended its sponsorship of her restaurant and froze reimbursement payments after she refused to pay a final kickback, according to Raguse.
She was filmed exiting the courthouse with her face covered as her lawyer told the media to “fuck off.”
The second guilty plea came from Hadith Yusuf Ahmed, one of the apparent ringleaders of the scheme who solicited and received more than $1 million in kickbacks as an employee of Feeding Our Future.
According to Ahmed’s guilty plea:
“Ahmed was an employee of Feeding Our Future and was responsible for monitoring and supporting sponsor sites. Ahmed solicited and accepted kickback payments from several sites under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Ahmed created and used a shell company, Mizal Consulting LLC, to receive and conceal the kickback payments, which were often disguised as ‘consulting fees.’ In all, Ahmed solicited and received more than $1 million in bribe and kickback payments from individuals and companies involved in the scheme under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Ahmed also created a site under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future called Southwest Metro Youth. Ahmed and his co-conspirators submitted fraudulent invoices for reimbursement in which they claimed to be serving meals to 2,000 children a day at Southwest Metro Youth. In support of these fraudulent claims, Ahmed and his co-conspirators prepared and submitted fake paperwork, including fake meal counts and fake invoices purporting to document the purchase of food from a vendor. In total, Ahmed’s company Southwest Metro Youth obtained more than $1.1 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.”
A third defendant, Bekam Addissu Merdassa, also pleaded guilty and has agreed to testify in other cases.
His guilty plea explains:
“Merdassa used a non-profit entity called Youth Inventors Lab as a shell company to carry out his scheme. Merdassa and his co-conspirators enrolled Youth Inventors Lab in the Federal Child Nutrition Program under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. After enrolling in the program, Merdassa and his co-conspirators immediately began submitting claims for reimbursement for purportedly serving meals to hundreds or thousands of children a day. In support of these fraudulent claims, Merdassa and his co-conspirators prepared and submitted fake invoices purporting to document the purchase of food from a vendor, S & S Catering. But Youth Inventors Lab never received any meals from S & S Catering to serve at its site. In total, Youth Inventors Lab claimed to have served over 1.3 million meals between December 2020 through June 2021 and fraudulently received $3,029,786 in reimbursements from Feeding Our Future.”
All three pleaded guilty to one count each of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and sentencing will take place at a later date. They are expected to face anywhere between 24 and 57 months in prison.