GUILTY: Pandemic Fraud Scheme

( – Finally putting an end to a huge fraudulent scheme, a Minnesota jury convicted five state residents for taking advantage of food aid programs intended for low-income children during the pandemic.

The individuals involved were Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur.

They now face charges including conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering and federal programs bribery. However, both Said Shafii Farah and Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin were acquitted.

Initially, prosecutors claimed these seven defendants had stolen over $40 million, which amounted to a broader $250 million loss to taxpayers, as reported by the Associated Press.

Authorities have only recovered about $50 million. Rather than supporting charitable causes, the funds were used for personal luxuries like high-end cars, jewelry, travel and real estate.

The trial also took an unexpected turn due to a bribery scandal that involved “Juror #52.”

According to an FBI affidavit, a woman approached this juror’s home and offered a gift bag filled with $120,000 as a bribe to influence the trial’s outcome, which prompted the FBI to launch an investigation into the incident.

Nonprofits Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition are both central to the scandal, as they saw a dramatic increase in funds during the pandemic, each handling about $200 million in 2021 alone.

These funds were provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and were meant to supply meals to children affected by the economic downturn caused by COVID-19.

Prosecutors argued that the organizations billed for non-existent meals, used shell companies for money laundering and set up food distribution in illegal locations like parking lots and abandoned buildings.

This case is part of a larger federal probe into what became one of the country’s most extensive fraud schemes, with 70 defendants expected to stand trial.

In their case summary, prosecutors described the fraud as having spread like “an aggressive cancer.”

“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.”

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