Guilty pleas in the Feeding Our Future fraud investigation began to trickle in three weeks after the US Attorney’s office first announced charges against dozens of suspects. Four defendants pleaded guilty in the case.
Like Sahan Journal follows the growing number of defendants in the case– which currently has 50 people – we will also follow all defendants who plead guilty. This story will be updated as more defendants plead.
Federal prosecutors call Feeding Our Future investigation largest COVID-19 pandemic relief fraud case in nation; at least $250 million was allegedly diverted from the federal government. The case alleges that several nonprofit organizations defrauded the federal government of money intended to feed underprivileged children. Instead of feeding the children, the defendants allegedly embezzled the money and spent it on personal items, including real estate, flashy cars and luxury vacations.
Sponsoring organizations such as Feeding Our Future received the federal funds and then distributed them to smaller groups, also called food sites, meant to feed the children.
The alleged fraud was simple at its core: some organizations along the financial chain said they served more meals than they actually did – or completely made up their numbers without ever serving a meal – in order to receive more federal reimbursement dollars.
Here is a list of the four defendants who pleaded guilty:
- Bekam Merdassa, 40, co-directed Youth Inventors Lab, a front company that used Feeding Our Future as a sponsor. Bekam pleaded guilty Oct. 13 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He admitted in court that Youth Inventors Lab never served a single meal, but raised $3 million in federal food assistance claiming to have served 1.3 million meals between December 2020 and June 2021.
- Hadith Yusuf Ahmed33, previously worked for Feeding Our Future monitoring food sites enrolled in federal child nutrition programs through Feeding Our Future. Hadith pleaded guilty on October 13 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He admitted to accepting $1 million in bribes from food sites in exchange for them signing up for federal food programs. He also admitted to creating a shell company called Southwest Metro Youth which received $1.1 million by falsely claiming to feed 2,000 children a day. He told a judge he didn’t know how many Southwest Metro Youth kids actually fed during the pandemic, but it was “nowhere near 2,000.”
- Hanna Marekegn40, owned the Brava Cafe, a restaurant in Minneapolis. She pleaded guilty on October 13 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. She told the court that Brava received $7.1 million in federal food assistance claiming to serve more than two million meals between September 2020 and January 2022. She did not know how many meals Brava actually served, but did admitted that she had inflated the numbers. She also admitted to giving more than $150,000 in kickbacks to Feeding Our Future employees in exchange for her restaurant signing up for food programs. “I made a mistake,” she told the court, crying.
- Abdul Abubakar Ali40, co-directed the Youth Inventors Lab food site. He pleaded guilty on October 26 to one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud. He admitted that Youth Inventors Lab never served a single meal, but claimed to have served 1.3 million meals in order to receive $3 million in federal food aid.
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