Feeding Our Future fraud defendant returns to U.S., appears in court

A man points to a screen showing evidence
U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota Andrew Luger (center) shows off photos Sept. 20 of falsified meal cards that were used to claim thousands of children were participating in the program. Luger explains that, after researching names of children with school rosters, only a tiny percentage of students actually existed.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

One of the three defendants in a sprawling food aid fraud case who'd left the country has returned to Minnesota and made his initial court appearance Thursday.

Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin is among 49 people accused in what federal prosecutors say was a brazen scheme to steal $250 million from two U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition programs for children. The alleged ringleader was Aimee Bock, 41, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Feeding our Future. Bock has pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and bribery.

According to the indictment, Aftin, 32, and one of his co-defendants, Said Shafii Farah, 40, set up a company called Bushra Wholesalers in early 2021. Among other things, Aftin allegedly wired $200,000 to a property company in Nairobi, Kenya toward the purchase of real estate there.

Tasha Zerna, a spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis, said in text message to MPR News last week that Aftin was among three defendants who were not in the United States at the time the indictments were unsealed on Sept. 20. Zerna said Thursday that Aftin had returned to Minnesota in recent days, but she did not say when he left the country or where he went.

At a brief hearing Thursday, Aftin pleaded not guilty to charges of wire fraud and money laundering, and Magistrate Judge Jon Huseby ordered him released.

Though two other defendants in the case remain outside the U.S. and others have allegedly tried to flee, the government does not think the majority of the defendants pose a risk of fleeing.

Prosecutors have requested pretrial detention for four of them, including Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, 33, and Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49. The men were charged previously with passport fraud after authorities said they falsely told the U.S. State Department they’d lost their passports after FBI agents seized the travel documents while executing search warrants in January. Ismail pleaded guilty in the passport case in July; Farah has pleaded not guilty.

A third defendant, Mohamed Muse Noor, is jailed in Chicago after FBI agents arrested him Monday at O’Hare Airport. According to court documents, investigators learned late Sunday that Noor had booked a Monday morning flight to Istanbul, Turkey. Authorities say Noor is the cousin of Abdikerm Abelahi Eidleh, 39, who’s also charged in the case and is believed to be living in Mogadishu, Somalia.

A magistrate judge last week ordered pretrial detention for Anab Artan Awad, 52, for allegedly violating the terms of her release in a separate 2021 indictment charging her with Medicaid fraud.

MPR News is Reader Funded

Before you keep reading, take a moment to donate to MPR News. Your financial support ensures that factual and trusted news and context remain accessible to all.