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Feeding Our Future trial: ‘The next multi-millionaires will be you and me’ 

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Feeding Our Future trial: ‘The next multi-millionaires will be you and me’ 

May 15, 2024 | 8:48 am ET
By Deena Winter
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‘The next multi-millionaires will be you and me’ 
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Attorneys Clayton Carlson (left) Andrew Birrell (right) and Steven Schleicher (second from right) flank defendant Said Shafii Farah on the first day of testimony in the Feeding Our Future trial. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

Two men charged with being part of a $40 million scheme to defraud the government called their state overseers “useless a**holes,” their nonprofit sponsors “idiots,” their alleged co-conspirators “clowns,” and each other future multi-millionaires in WhatsApp messages shown during their federal trial Tuesday.

Their texts were read aloud during day 12 of the first trial in the Feeding Our Future case, in which federal prosecutors have charged 70 people so far with being part of a $250 million scheme to misuse money meant to feed children during the pandemic. Prosecutors say the group took advantage of loosened federal rules designed to make it easier to get food to kids. Feeding Our Future was a nonprofit that acted as sponsor of the fraudsters in exchange for kickbacks, prosecutors allege. 

A special agent for the IRS, Brian Pitzen, testified about texts and WhatsApp messages found on defendant Abdiaziz Shafii Farah’s cell phone after it was seized during FBI raids in January 2022. WhatsApp is an encrypted messaging app that’s more secure than texts.

Defense attorneys for the seven defendants have said they really did feed people and merely made a fair profit off the complex government program. Prosecutors say they defrauded the U.S. Department of Agriculture program of over $40 million by falsely claiming to have distributed nearly 19 million meals across the state during the pandemic.

Defense attorneys have said they’ll show photos and videos of people getting food, but Pitzen beat them to it, blunting their defense by showing some of the photos and videos he retrieved from Farah’s cell phone showing boxes and bags of groceries and some people lined up at sites to get it.

Pitzen said you would expect to find photos and videos like that from “someone attempting to carry out a very large scheme.”

The phone had photos of bags of potatoes and onions outside Shakopee halal market Empire Cuisine & Market; bags of rice, peppers, onions; boxes of moldy oranges; and bags of groceries. The amount of food in the photos did not match what might have been expected given the number of meals the group got reimbursed for through the state Department of Education, Pitzen said.

The jury was shown a video of a line of people in cars waiting to get groceries, but Pitzen said it clearly wasn’t as many people as claimed for reimbursement.

The prosecution showed WhatsApp messages between defendant Abdiaziz Shafii Farah and Mahad Ibrahim, the president and owner of ThinkTechAct Foundation, a nonprofit also known as Mind Foundry Learning Foundation. ThinkTechAct — sponsored by both Feeding Our Future and another nonprofit called Partners in Nutrition — created dozens of sites throughout the state, and is charged with fraudulently getting over $18 million in federal child nutrition program funds.

Ibrahim was originally supposed to go on trial with this group, but he will be tried separately because his attorney was “unavailable.”

Most of their messages revolved around dividing up the money they made, coming up with names of children they served, and dealing with the state and nonprofit that was supposed to be monitoring them — as opposed to the what you would expect to be the complicated logistics of getting huge amounts of food to distribution sites, Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson said.

In one March 2021 message, Ibrahim asked Farah when he’d get paid because he had to make a $280,000 payment on a $975,000 house. Prosecutors say Farah went on to write a $1 million check to buy a lakeside Prior Lake home.

They messaged each other about taking $50,000 cuts, and how much their partners should get. Prosecutors say the Shakopee halal market was at the center of the group’s scheme — one of the biggest pieces of the overall fraud.

Farah called some of their cohorts “clowns.” 

They also groused about the state’s temporary halting of payments in April 2021 due to suspicion about fraud and new documentation requirements.

“It’s a mess,” Ibrahim wrote. “MDE is going line by line through each site.”

Farah complained that they were having to do more documentation because their sponsors “don’t do the damn bare min(imum).”

In April 2021, Farah wrote to Ibrahim, “bro FOF (Feeding Our Future) is in deep s*** I can assure you. I hope her lawyer is Jesus. Miracles miracles miracles.”

Ibrahim was more optimistic, writing that with “enough pressure … she’ll get another chance.”

Feeding Our Future CEO Executive Director Aimee Bock would go on to hold a protest outside MDE’s office in Roseville to pressure the state to approve applications for food distribution sites so they could feed more children.

Later in April 2021, Farah and Ibrahim talked about how Minneapolis restaurant Brava Café grew exponentially, which claimed to prepare meals for another nonprofit, House of Refuge, which in turn claimed it distributed over 10,000 meals. Prosecutors say the nonprofit only provided a small fraction of that. Farah and Ibrahim marveled that another man took a “small a** restaurant” and started making $1.8 million a month.

“The next multi-millionaires will be you and me,” Farah wrote to Ibrahim.

“Inshallah (God willing),” Ibrahim replied.

Still Ibrahim confided days later, no matter how much money accumulated in his bank account, he wrote, “I still worry about money.”

“I think I’m scared from childhood,” he wrote.  

At one point, while going over how much everyone in their group should get, Ibrahim wrote that even more money was on the way.

“It’s insane, bro,” he wrote to Farah.