COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — The Department of Justice has charged two Columbus-area men with participation in a scheme to defraud $250 million from a child nutrition program during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The men are said to be part of a ring of 47 people now charged with federal crimes for their alleged roles in defrauding a program designed to feed Minnesota children during the COVID-19 pandemic, diverting millions of dollars destined to help hungry kids for personal gain, according to a department media release.

Abdirahman Mohamud Ahmed, 54, of Columbus, and Mahad Ibrahim, 46, of Lewis Center, are alleged to have taken part in an “egregious plot to steal public funds meant to care for children in need in what amounts to the largest pandemic relief fraud scheme yet,” said FBI Director Christopher Wray in the release.

$16M diverted to fake nutrition program

Ahmed owned and ran Safari Restaurant, a site that received more than $16 million in fraudulent Federal Child Nutrition Program funds. He is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering, according to the Department of Justice.

Ibrahim acted as president and owner of ThinkTechAct Foundation, a Minnesota nonprofit organization that also operated under the name Mind Foundry Learning Foundation. ThinkTechAct and Mind Foundry created dozens of sites throughout Minnesota, including in Minneapolis, St. Paul, Bloomington, Burnsville, Faribault, Owatonna, Shakopee, Circle Pines, and Willmar. ThinkTechAct received more than $18 million in fraudulent Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

Ibrahim is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering, and money laundering, according to the release.

How it worked

Aimee Bock, 41, of Apple Valley, Minnesota, was the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit organization that was a sponsor participating in the Federal Child Nutrition Program. Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing approximately $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021, the media release alleged.

Feeding Our Future employees recruited individuals and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout the state of Minnesota. These sites, created and operated by the defendants and others, fraudulently claimed to be serving meals to thousands of children a day within just days or weeks of being formed.

Then, participants in the alleged fraud ring created dozens of shell companies to enroll in the program as Federal Child Nutrition Program sites. They also created shell companies to receive and launder the proceeds of their fraudulent scheme, according to the media release.

Pretend food for fake children

They also submitted fraudulent meal count sheets and fake invoices for food they’d pretended to serve children. The defendants also submitted fake attendance rosters with fake children’s names. For example, one roster was created using names from a website called “www.listofrandomnames.com.”

Despite knowing the claims were fraudulent, Feeding Our Future submitted the fraudulent claims to MDE and then disbursed the fraudulently obtained Federal Child Nutrition Program funds to the individuals and entities involved in the scheme, the DoJ alleged.

What it bought

In total, Feeding Our Future opened more than 250 sites throughout the state of Minnesota and fraudulently obtained and disbursed more than $240 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

Proceeds went to buy luxury vehicles, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota, property in Ohio and Kentucky, and real estate in Kenya and Turkey, as well as to fund international travel, the media release alleged.