Prosecutors say fraud spread ‘like an aggressive cancer’ in first Feeding Our Future trial 

The trial is expected to last for up to six weeks.

Seven defendants in the Feeding Our Future case and their attorneys in the Diane E. Murphy United States Courthouse for jury selection. (Credit: Cedric Hohnstadt)

More than two years after the FBI raided the offices of Feeding Our Future, the first bunch of defendants connected to the defunct nonprofit’s “brazen scheme of staggering proportions” went on trial this week.

Opening statements took place Monday in the first trial of the federal government’s case that accuses a total of 70 Minnesotans (18 of whom have pleaded guilty) of defrauding the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Child Nutrition Program of at least $250 million meant to feed hungry children.

“The defendants’ fraud, like an aggressive cancer, spread and grew. As the evidence will make clear, the number of sham food sites and phony meal claims concocted by the defendants quickly snowballed through 2020 and 2021. At their fraudulent peak in March 2021, the defendants claimed to serve 2.7 million meals to children in just that month alone — an impossibility,” prosecutors wrote in a brief spelling out their case against the first group of seven defendants.

The first trial in the sprawling and complex scandal will zoom in on the role of Shakopee-based restaurant Empire Cuisine & Market, and those connected to it, in perpetrating the alleged fraud.

“Ultimately, by the time the defendants’ scheme was exposed in early 2022, they collectively claimed to have served over 18 million meals from 50 unique locations for which they fraudulently sought reimbursement of $49 million from the Federal Child Nutrition Program.”

The owners of the restaurant, Abdiaziz Farah and Mohamed Ismail, along with six co-conspirators operated nearly 50 food distribution sites under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future and another nonprofit called Partners in Nutrition, prosecutors said.

“The defendants exploited the Covid-19 pandemic to obtain, misappropriate, and launder tens of millions of dollars in program funds that were intended as reimbursements for the cost of serving meals and food to children,” they wrote in a trial brief.

Seven defendants in the Feeding Our Future case and their attorneys in the Diane E. Murphy United States Courthouse for jury selection. (Credit: Cedric Hohnstadt)

“Abdiaziz Farah and Mohamed Ismail claimed — fraudulently — that their small storefront market served millions of meals to Minnesota kids in 2020 and 2021. Based on these fraudulent claims, Empire Cuisine & Market received more than $30 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds to which they were not entitled.”

‘Inhospitable parking lots’

Prosecutors plan to call witnesses who will “testify about the falsity” of the defendants’ claims, including property managers, landlords, and neighbors of some of the various food sites they operated throughout the state.

“Among other things, these witnesses will explain that defendants did not — and could not — prepare food at their respective sites as they claimed because there were no amenities to do so,” prosecutors wrote.

As an example, prosecutors provided an image of an empty and “inhospitable” gravel parking lot where the defendants claimed to be serving food.

Prosecutors provided an image of an empty and “inhospitable” gravel parking lot where the defendants claimed to be serving food. (U.S. District Court)

In other cases, they would allegedly misappropriate addresses and names of locations without permission, including a city park, and claim “to be feeding kids daily at the site.”

Prosecutors also plan to have school district personnel testify that the “falsified” names of children whom the defendants purported to be feeding “appear nowhere in the official school district enrollment records of multiple school districts where the defendants professed to serve millions of meals.”

“The trial evidence will reveal that some of the defendants and their conspirators created and submitted sham meal count sheets and phony attendance rosters purporting to list the names of children who received meals at their sites, often with demonstrably fake names, like ‘Man Sincere,’ ‘Ron Donald,’ and even ‘John Doe,’” prosecutors said.

‘Honeymoon in the Maldives’

The U.S. Attorney’s Office plans to describe at trial how the defendants allegedly spent their “fraudulent proceeds” on lavish personal expenses such as real estate, cars, luxury travel, and jewelry.

One of the defendants, Abdimajid Nur, is accused of using money he obtained through the scheme on a “honeymoon to the Maldives, where he stayed in a private villa.”

“He also spent $30,000 in fraud proceeds at a jewelry store in Dubai, again via his shell company Nur Consulting,” prosecutors wrote. “In short, defendants used the Federal Child Nutrition Program funds they received as a slush fund to enrich themselves, rather than to feed children.”

Who’s on trial? 

Aimee Bock, the alleged ringleader of the fraud and the founder of Feeding Our Future, was charged in a separate indictment and is expected to go on trial at a later time.

Those on trial now include:

  • Abdiaziz Shafii Farah: Farah was an owner and operator of Empire Cuisine & Market, which allegedly participated in the scheme as a “site, as a vendor for other sites, and as an entity to launder fraudulent proceeds.”
  • Mohamed Jama Ismail: Ismail was also an owner and operator of Empire Cuisine & Market.
  • Abdimajid Mohamed Nur: Nur is accused of creating Nur Consulting LLC to receive and launder funds from Empire Cuisine & Market and other entities.
  • Said Shafii Farah: Farah is the brother of Abdiaziz Farah and was an owner of Bushra Wholesalers LLC, a shell company allegedly used to launder fraudulent funds.
  • Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin: Aftin was also an owner of Bushra Wholesalers LLC.
  • Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff: Sharif was the CEO of Afrique Hospitality Group, another shell company that was allegedly used for obtaining and laundering funds.
  • Hayat Mohamed Nur: Nur is the sister of Abdimajid Nur and is accused of participating in the scheme by “creating and submitting fraudulent meal count sheets, attendance rosters, and invoices.”

An eighth person, Mahad Ibrahim, was charged in the same indictment as the seven defendants but is not participating in this trial due to a conflict with an attorney, KSTP reported

Defense counsel for Abdiaziz Farah makes opening statements Monday in the Diane E. Murphy United States Courthouse. (Credit: Cedric Hohnstadt)

Alpha News board member and PowerLine contributor Scott Johnson was in the courtroom Monday to observe the defense attorneys’ opening statements, which painted the defendants as entrepreneurs who were operating in good faith despite a lack of guidance from the government and delivered “real food” to people in need, according to Johnson.

“I wondered if the absence of Aimee Bock would be a problem for the government in the prosecution of these cases. I also wondered if the government’s contribution to the fraud by relaxing the otherwise applicable rules would facilitate the defense of the cases,” Johnson wrote in his report from the courthouse.

“They will be pointing the finger at the government and Aimee Bock’s Feeding Our Future organization.”

The trial is expected to last for up to six weeks. The first witnesses called to the stand for the prosecution were Emily Honer of the Minnesota Department of Education and FBI Special Agent Jared Kary


Anthony Gockowski

Anthony Gockowski is Editor-in-Chief of Alpha News. He previously worked as an editor for The Minnesota Sun and Campus Reform, and wrote for the Daily Caller.