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Clockwise from top: Several defendants and their attorneys observe as prospective jurors are questioned on April 22, 2024; Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Ebert gives his opening statement on April 29, 2024; and former Feeding Our Future employee Hadith Ahmed testifies on May 8, 2024.

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Testimony in the first Feeding Our Future trial resumes Monday, and is a few weeks from wrapping up. 

The trial began April 22 with a week of jury selection, and is in its fifth week. Monday is the start of the fourth week of testimony. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks, meaning it could conclude at the end of May or in mid-June. 

The trial has provided a deeper look into what has become known as the Feeding Our Future fraud case, a sprawling federal investigation into the alleged theft of $250 million from a federal program aimed to feed underserved children during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seven defendants are being jointly tried, and dozens of others are charged in the case. The defendants on trial are: Abdiaziz Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Nur, Hayat Nur, Said Farah, and Abdiwahab Aftin.

Here are some key takeaways from the trial:

The alleged fraud involved reporting false numbers.

The Minnesota Department of Education distributed money from the federal Child Nutrition Program to sponsor organizations like Feeding Our Future and Partners in Quality Care. The sponsor organizations then dispersed those funds to food vendors and food sites, which were supposed to provide ready-to-eat meals to local children. 

Several organizations reported serving thousands more meals than they actually did, or simply never served any meals at all, in order to receive more federal money, according to prosecutors. Those funds were then allegedly pocketed by the perpetrators.

The defendants on trial are charged with stealing $40 million, and face a total of 41 criminal charges, including money laundering, fraud, and bribery. 

Prosecutors are close to wrapping up their case.

Prosecutors are expected to present evidence that the defendants allegedly submitted documents with the faked names of nonexistent children they claimed to feed. FBI forensic accountants are also expected to testify before the prosecution wraps up its case.

After the state rests its case, defense attorneys have an opportunity to call their own witnesses. Each defendant has their own defense teams, but attorneys have often worked together to streamline the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses.

Defense attorneys are expected to call their own financial expert to the stand, witnesses who are expected to testify that they saw food being delivered, and a professor from the University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, who will testify about how immigrant entrepreneurs typically conduct business. 

The defense teams are also expected to present photos and videos of their clients serving meals. The defense teams are not expected to take as much time as the prosecution.

Prosecutors presented witnesses who testified they never saw meals being served, and provided troves of paperwork showing alleged fraud.

The prosecution’s main strategy is to show jurors paper trail after paper trail showing the number of meals claimed and how those numbers skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Other documents tracked how defendants received, divided, and spent tens of millions of dollars. 

Several witnesses testified that they worked at or near locations where the defendants claimed to serve food, including townhomes and city parks, and that they never saw the meals delivered. Witnesses also testified that the number of meals the defendants reported serving were impossibly high because there weren’t that many children in the area or building where the meals were reported.

The prosecution also called former Feeding Our Future site supervisor, Hadith Ahmed, who testified that the nonprofit operated a scheme to steal millions of dollars. Hadith exchanged several text messages and emails with some of the defendants on trial.

Defense attorneys questioned the quality of the FBI investigation and a key witness’ credibility.

Defense attorneys have tried to cast doubt on the strength of the FBI’s investigation and the credibility of a key prosecution witness.

Defense attorneys pointed out that FBI agents did not visit or surveil most of the defendants’ food sites to verify whether meals were being served. 

Defense attorneys pointed to inconsistencies in signatures attributed to their clients that appeared on checks prosecutors presented in court. How could prosecutors prove that the defendants signed the checks, defense attorneys asked, if FBI agents didn’t witness or record the defendants signing them?

Under cross-examination by defense attorneys, many prosecution witnesses testified that they weren’t approached by the FBI to participate in the case until this year, sometimes just days before their testimony. The FBI began its investigation in mid-2021.

“Were you aware the first time you were talked to was after the trial started?” defense attorney Patrick Cotter, who is representing Mohamed Ismail, asked witness Faloness Wanless on May 13. 

“Yes, sir,” said Wanless, a former property manager at Clifton Townhomes, an apartment complex in Shakopee where defendants claimed to serve thousands of meals a day.

An insider provided details about widespread fraud, but admitted he’s cooperating with authorities for his own benefit.

The most dramatic day of trial so far came with Hadith Ahmed’s testimony. Hadith, who was a site supervisor at Feeding Our Future, described himself as the “right-hand man” to the organization’s executive director, Aimee Bock. He testified numerous times in court that he “participated in the fraud scheme.”

Hadith said his job was to visit and vet food sites under the organization’s sponsorship to ensure they were serving the amount of meals they reported. But instead, he testified, he enrolled food sites into the federal food-aid program, looked the other way, and received $1 million in kickbacks from the food sites he helped. 

“Why did you want to participate in Feeding Our Future?” asked U.S. Assistant Attorney Harry Jacobs.

“To get rich,” Hadith said.

Hadith testified for a day under prosecution questioning. Defense attorneys spent another full day grilling Hadith and questioning his credibility. 

During cross-examination, Hadith repeatedly testified that he did not remember statements he made the previous day. Defense attorneys also emphasized that Hadith had pleaded guilty to his crimes in the case, and could potentially receive a reduced prison sentence for helping the government’s case against other defendants. 

“You’re hoping the downward departure goes from 4 to 5 years to 0 years” in prison, asked defense attorney Edward Sapone, who is representing Abdimajid Nur. 

“I hope,” Hadith said. 

Sapone and other attorneys also noted that Hadith didn’t give information to the government until after he was caught. 

“You wanted to get away with it?” Sapone asked, referring to Hadith’s crimes. 

“Of course,” Hadith replied.

Defendants allegedly used the federal money on extravagant purchases.

Prosecutors showed jurors evidence that extravagant cars, including a Porsche, Tesla, and Sierra, were found at defendant Abdiaziz Farah’s home. The cars were all purchased within months of each other. 

They showed pictures of $65,000 in cash found at Abdiaziz’s home, and evidence that he flew first class on a vacation to Dubai, where he bought 21-karat gold jewelry for his wife. 

They showed photos of Abdiaziz and his wife on an ATV in the desert, and evidence that they toured the Burj Khalifa in Dubai—the tallest skyscraper in the world.

Jurors also saw evidence that Abdiaziz bought lakefront property in Prior Lake for $1.1 million, and that he spent $600,000 to build a house on the land. 

Prosecutors also showed evidence that Abdiaziz  purchased apartments in Nairobi, Kenya, and planned to build a home in the country. Abdaiziz and co-defendant Abdiwahab also sent hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent building apartments in Nairobi, according to evidence at trial.

Defense attorneys said there’s an explanation for why the number of meals claimed looked so high on paper.

Clayton Carlson, who is representing Said Farah, broke down how the defendants claimed to serve 173,016 meals at the La Cruz apartment complex in St. Cloud over three months. A maintenance worker from the building testified that that number was impossible because La Cruz houses about 900 residents.

Carslon said in court that if each of those residents ate three meals a day, that would add up to 27,000 meals a day, and 2.43 million meals over the course of three months.

“So, this 173,016 is a small number?” Carslon asked the witness.

“There is just no way that that was served at La Cruz without me knowing about it,” said the maintenance worker, Gary Theisen.

“Did you ever see two million meals being served?” Carlson asked.

“No,” Theisen said. 

“But that was the amount of meals being eaten in La Cruz,” Carlson said.

“Yes, but there was no way I could observe that because I wasn’t in everyone’s home,” Theisen said.

The trial is just the tip of the iceberg. There are dozens of pending cases.

The seven defendants are the first to go to trial in the case. A total of 70 defendants have been charged in the case. Hadith testified that around 200 people participated in Feeding Our Future’s alleged fraud scheme.

Eighteen of the 70 defendants, including Hadith, have pleaded guilty, and are awaiting sentencing.

At least one more trial could occur later this year featuring Bock, Feeding Our Future’s executive Director, and 13 other defendants. The dates aren’t set yet for the trial. Prosecutors originally asked for a June start date, but defense attorneys asked for a fall date.

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