Minnesota is at the center of the nation’s largest pandemic fraud case, which federal authorities say will increase further as the investigation continues.
The US Department of Justice on Tuesday announced charges against 47 people suspected of being linked to the $250 million scheme to defraud the federal infant nutrition program. The 48th suspect was charged on Tuesday evening, according to KARE 11.
The suspects are accused of participating in a massive scheme to pocket federal aid intended to provide meals for needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Federal prosecutors allege Aimee Bock, the former executive director of the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, played a role in orchestrating the scheme and took kickbacks.
In a statement Wednesday, Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, said the indictments describe “a flagrant conspiracy to steal public funds intended to care for children in need.”
“Defendants went to great lengths to exploit a program designed to feed underserved Minnesota children amid the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulently diverting millions of dollars intended for the program for their own personal gain,” said Wray.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Minnesota U.S. Attorney Andy Luger said the case represented the nation’s largest pandemic fraud case.
“That $250 million is the floor – our investigation is ongoing,” he said, adding that the suspects were working at “dizzying speed” to steal the money and spend it on themselves.
Federal prosecutors allege 125 million meals were wrongfully served in Minnesota.
“It quickly became the ultimate ‘get it rich’ plan,” Luger said.
Sharmarke Issa, 40, of Edina, and Abdulkadir Salah, 36, of Columbia Heights, were among those connected to the local government to be charged on Tuesday.
Salah, the owner of the Safari restaurant, is a former senior aide to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey.
Frey learned of the allegations against Salah when the Sahan Diary inquired about the investigation in February, a spokesperson for the mayor told the nonprofit Newsroom. Salah’s departure from his position as Frey’s senior political aide was announced the same day.
Issa, who served as chairman of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, resigned in February after the investigation was revealed. Frey appointed Issa to this position in 2019, reports the Sahan Journal.
Salah is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to bribe under federal programs, bribery under federal programs, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.
Issa is charged with wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering.
Civil and criminal investigations into the alleged scheme are ongoing and additional charges could be brought.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison said on Tuesday he continues to monitor the disbandment of Feeding Our Future, which is taking place under court supervision after seeking court oversight.
The AG’s office’s ongoing civil investigation into the case aims to determine whether Feeding Our Future violated nonprofit and charity laws.
“I will hold bad actors accountable everywhere, no matter who they are or how connected they are,” Ellison said Tuesday, calling the scope of the cheating allegations “stunning and unethical.”
Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Education on Wednesday filed a claim seeking to recover more than $538,000 spent defending the agency against a discrimination lawsuit filed by Aimee Bock, the former executive director of Feeding Our. Future.
“This lawsuit was based on lies and was intended to intimidate MDE and distract from the ongoing Feeding Our Future fraud,” Education Commissioner Dr Heather Mueller said on Wednesday. .”
The claim seeks to return the value of these resources to the taxpayers of Minnesota.
Read more about the allegations here.