Two Columbus-area men are among 47 defendants charged in Minnesota in what federal prosecutors say was a “brazen scheme” to steal $250 million in federal COVID relief funds by billing the federal government for fake free meals for needy children who didn’t exist.
Attorney General Merrick Garland called what happened with the nonprofit Feeding Our Future program “the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme charged to date.” Instead of providing free meals to underserved children at non-education sites operated by nonprofits or for-profit restaurants in Minneapolis-St. Paul and beyond, federal authorities allege the defendants took advantage of relaxed federal requirements intended to help children during the pandemic by falsifying paperwork to obtain federal funds illegally.
Prosecutors allege the defendants used the federal money for their own benefit — including for the purchase of luxury vehicles, international travel, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky; beach property in Kenya, and property on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey.
Abdirahman “Abcos” Ahmed, 54, who owns a home in Orange Township, Delaware County, is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. The restaurateur owned the now-closed Safari Restaurant & Banquet Center in Minneapolis, a contemporary Somali and African cuisine restaurant alleged in court documents to have been paid more than $16 million in federal funds after reporting it served several thousands pandemic meals to children each day.
Ahmed moved to the Columbus area around 2018. During the pandemic in 2020, he and his wife opened Afra Grill restaurant on Morse Road in the city’s Northland area. A second location has opened at Easton Town Center and a third is planned in New Albany. Court records indicate he purchased his Delaware County home for more than $290,000, bought a 2021 Lexus for more than $42,000, and helped purchase a $2.4 million commercial building on Stelzer Road on the city’s Northeast Side.
Mahad Ibrahim, 46, who also owns a home in Orange Township, is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering. Court documents and IRS records show Ibrahim was the president of ThinkTechAct Foundation, a Minnesota nonprofit organization, and the owner of the for-profit Mind Foundry Learning Foundation, both of which operated out of the same office in cooperative working space at the Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota.
Mind Foundry and ThinkTechAct, which IRS records indicate lost its nonprofit status in 2020, hosted a total of some two dozen meal sites, records indicate. Ibrahim is accused of illegally receiving more than $20 million in federal funds, much of which was passed on to the owners of Empire Cuisine & Market in Shakopee, Minnesota.
Neither Ahmed nor Ibrahim could be reached for comment Tuesday night.
Sen. Rob Portman:COVID-19 relief fraud “probably the biggest fraud ever committed against the American people.”
Serving fake meals to fake kids
Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the Feeding Our Future program, was charged by federal prosecutors with overseeing the alleged massive fraud scheme .
Court records state that Feeding Our Future employees allegedly recruited individuals and entities to open more than 250 Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout Minnesota. Employees of the nonprofit allegedly took bribes and kickbacks to admit certain people and entities into the program. Feeding Our Future is accused of fraudulently obtaining and disbursing more than $240 million in federal funds.
Prosecutors allege the sites run by the defendants fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed.
The defendants also are accused of submitting fake attendance rosters purporting to list the names and ages of the children receiving meals at the sites each day and fraudulent invoices, according to prosecutors. The rosters were fabricated and created using fake names, including one that used names from a website called www.listofrandomnames.com.
Other defendants used an Excel formula to insert a random age between seven and 17 into the age column of the false rosters that were submitted for reimbursement.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism