Fourth Feeding our Future defendant admits role in fraud scheme

A person walks
Abdul Abubakar Ali leaves the federal courthouse in Minneapolis on October 26, 2022, after pleading guilty to his role in an alleged $250 million scheme to defraud two government child nutrition programs.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

Another defendant charged in an alleged $250 million fraud scheme connected to the nonprofit Feeding Our Future pleaded guilty Wednesday.

Abdul Abubakar Ali, 40, of St. Paul is among 50 people whom the government has charged with defrauding two U.S. Department of Agriculture child nutrition programs. They're accused of spending taxpayers' money on real estate, travel, and luxury items.

When he announced the indictments in September, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger called the alleged fraud a “brazen scheme of staggering proportions” and said it was the nation’s largest COVID-19 scam.

During a plea hearing in Minneapolis, Ali admitted that he falsely claimed to have served 1.3 million meals over six months through a nonprofit called Youth Inventors Lab. Ali told U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel that he did not serve any meals at all.

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Ali said he sent fake invoices to an alleged co-conspirator who operated a catering company. Ali faces 30 to 37 months in prison under sentencing guidelines. In exchange for pleading guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, and agreeing to pay $122,698 in restitution, prosecutors promised to drop a second wire fraud count as well as a count of conspiracy to commit money laundering.

Youth Inventors Lab founder Bekam Merdassa has already pleaded guilty.

While Ali is the fourth defendant to plead guilty in the sprawling case, he’s the first to reverse an initial plea of not guilty.

Merdassa and the two other defendants who pleaded guilty Oct. 13 had been charged by criminal information, rather than by indictment. That means they agreed to admit guilt early in the process and waive their right to have a federal grand jury determine whether prosecutors had probable cause to bring charges.