Feeding our Future case expands, 10 more charged, at least 70 took part in conspiracy

Four people stand behind podium
Minnesota US Attorney Luger speaks during a press conference in the case against Feeding our Future at the United States District Court in Minneapolis.
Stephen Maturen for MPR News | 2023

Prosecutors have charged another 10 people allegedly connected to the Twin Cities nonprofit Feeding our Future. The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis now says 70 people took part in a conspiracy to steal at least $250 million from government nutrition programs meant for children in need.

The newly charged defendants face counts including wire fraud, bribery and money laundering.

In one of the new indictments, Ikram Yusuf Mohamed, 41, of Minneapolis is charged along with her husband, mother, three siblings and another woman with stealing more than $12 million from the Summer Food Service and Child and Adult Care Food Programs by falsely claiming to have served 4.8 million meals between December 2020 and November 2021.

Prosecutors say Mohamed worked as a consultant for Feeding Our Future, the nonprofit allegedly at the heart of the scheme. She’s accused of setting up multiple fraudulent meal sites and shell companies in the names of family members.

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Her brother Suleman Yusuf Mohamed, 39, stands accused of starting a sham food vendor company known as Star Distribution to launder the money. 

Mohamed’s sister Aisha Hassan Hussein, 27, registered an organization called “Untied Youth of Mpls LLC,” an apparent misspelling, with the Minnesota Secretary of State. The next day, Hussein and Feeding Our Future founder Aimee Bock allegedly applied to operate several meal sites in Minneapolis.

A staff member at the Minnesota Department of Education, which oversees the federal meal programs on the state level, pointed out in a February 2021 email that another sponsor had already requested to operate meal sites at two addresses that United Youth had claimed.

Bock, according to prosecutors, responded that “it is very common” for sites in large apartment complexes, mosques, and churches to “borrow their space to multiple different programs.”

MDE soon approved the site applications and Hussein immediately began filing reimbursement paperwork that falsely claimed that United Youth was serving meals to thousands of children each day.

A separate indictment charges Said Ereg, 45, and his wife Najmo Ahmed, 34, with running a phony meal site out of a south Minneapolis deli under the sponsorship of Feeding our Future and collecting $4.2 million. 

Hoda Ali Abdi, 53, is charged by criminal information and is expected to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud for allegedly operating a fraudulent meal site at her Burnsville grocery store and pocketing $243,268.

The federal child nutrition programs began in 1968 to provide meals to children from low-income families when school was not in session. Boys and girls clubs, YMCAs and other social service agencies have provided food under the programs for decades.

During the pandemic shutdown, the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed the rules to allow restaurants to serve as meal sites. The FBI said Bock conspired with dozens of others to set up phony meal sites.

They allegedly submitted fraudulent invoices and meal counts, and used a website meant for fiction writers to generate names for their fake attendance rosters. Bock pleaded not guilty after she was indicted in 2022 and has said she did nothing wrong.

MDE, which oversees the programs on the state level, contacted the FBI in early 2021 after noticing an enormous increase in federal payments to Feeding our Future. In 2018 the organization received $307,253, according to court filings; by 2021, that grew to $197.9 million. 

The outflow of taxpayer money came to a halt in early 2022 when the FBI executed search warrants at a dozen other locations including the offices of Feeding Our Future. A federal grand jury returned the initial batch of indictments in September 2022.

Of the 70 defendants, 17 have pleaded guilty. Among them is Sharon Ross, 53, who entered her plea just before she was sent to go to trial in January. Fartun Jama, 35, died of apparent natural causes in April 2023.  

Prosecutors split the sprawling case into 20 separate indictments, complaints, and criminal information filings. Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel that they would like to try the first of the major cases in April. It involves eight defendants who are connected to the Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine and Market and are alleged to have stolen $40 million.