Ramsey County prosecutors have charged four people with running a public benefits fraud scheme that bilked the state and investors out of more than $4 million.
The charges, almost 100 in all, stem from a 27-month investigation into businesses run by a Yasmin Abdulle Ali and her husband Ahmed Aden Mohamed, of Fridley.
With the help of two men who worked with them, Ali and Mohamed illegally collected nearly $3.7 million in state payments for personal care assistance and child care assistance, according to charges filed in Ramsey County District Court.
Prosecutors say they hid their business profits, most of which came from Ali's Deqo Family Centers in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and failed to pay more than $200,000 in taxes and fees. Besides state money, authorities say Ali solicited more than $450,000 from investors in Deqo without giving them any real ownership rights in return.
Ali faces more than half of the 96 total charges, according to the complaint. Mohamed ran day-to-day operations at the St. Paul Deqo center.
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi said Wednesday at a news conference that the company essentially paid workers to take care of their own children.
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Ali and Mohamed recruited more than 100 parents to work in child care at the centers while enrolling their own children, according to the complaint.
Deqo inflated the parents' work records to convince authorities that they were eligible for state child care assistance payments, which employers collect as reimbursement for the wages they pay employees. Deqo collected more than $3.1 million in state payments from April 2012 to January 2013 through the scheme.
Deqo also falsified the qualifications of workers who weren't certified to provide child care, authorities said. The state Department of Human Services revoked Deqo's child care license in June 2013 and said it could not trust any of the centers' documents.
DHS Commissioner Lucinda Jesson said in a statement that some 6,900 families currently await child care assistance.
"When this type of fraud occurs, it makes it that much harder to meet their needs," she said.
In addition to the charges involving the child care business, the complaint alleges that nearly $500,000 in state money went to All Nations Home Health Care, which Ali had "substantial" interests in. The company submitted claims for personal care assistance payments using names and identifiers of people who didn't provide the care.
Joshua John Miller of St. Paul and Jordan Christopher Smith of Cottage Grove both worked with All Nations' billing process. They face 19 counts of theft by swindle and four counts of identity theft between them. Miller also faces one count of racketeering.
Ali and Miller have their first court appearances scheduled for Thursday. Smith is scheduled to appear in court Jan. 7. Authorities have a warrant out for Mohamed's arrest.
MPR News Reporter Sasha Aslanian contributed to this report.