A Minnesota couple pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud after siphoning off more than $5 million from federal funding meant to feed underserved children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“According to the defendants’ guilty pleas and court documents,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota, said in a press release, the couple from Faribault, Minnesota, were part of the $250 million Feeding Our Future Scheme. Over 200 meal sites destined to feed children were part of the scheme, which the Department of Justice has labeled the “largest COVID-19 fraud scheme in the nation.”
Mohamed Ali Hussein, 53, and Lul Bashir Ali, 57, enrolled their respective companies Lido Restaurant and Somali American Faribault Education (SAFE) in the Federal Child Nutrition Program through the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Between June 2020 and January 2022, the couple admitted to “submitting fraudulently inflated invoices for reimbursement in which they claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day.” The couple prepared fake paperwork which inflated the meal counts.
Lido Restaurant was contracted to prepare meals that would be served at the SAFE site, and the couple sought reimbursement for more meals than Lido Restaurant actually prepared.
“In total, Hussein’s company claimed to have served more than 1.2 million meals to children between February and November 2021 and obtained approximately $2.1 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds,” according to the press release. “Ali’s company claimed to have served more than 700,000 meals to children between June 2020 and April 2021 and obtained approximately $2.9 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.”
Hussein also paid Feeding Our Future personnel more than $100,000 in kickbacks to sponsor Lido Restaurant and SAFE.
The couple will pay more than $5 million in restitution and must forfeit a vehicle. Their sentencing has yet to be scheduled.
U.S. Attorney Andrew M. Luger has charged sixty people involved in the scheme, KARE 11 reported.
Luger found those involved used the money to “purchase luxury vehicles, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota as well as property in Ohio and Kentucky, real estate in Kenya and Turkey, and to fund international travel.”
Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell of the IRS Criminal Investigation, Chicago Field Office, said those involved will be held accountable for their actions.
“Exploiting a government program intended to feed children at the time of a national crisis is the epitome of greed,” Campbell said. “As alleged, the defendants charged in this case chose to enrich themselves at the expense of children. Instead of feeding the future, they chose to steal from the future.”
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