Two Columbus-area men charged with alleged conspiracy to steal COVID funds

Two Columbus-area men are among 47 defendants charged in Minnesota in what federal prosecutors call a “brazen scheme” to steal $250 million in federal COVID relief funds by charging the federal government fake free meals for needy children who did not exist.

Attorney General Merrick Garland called what happened with the nonprofit program Feeding Our Future “the biggest pandemic fraud scheme charged to date.” Instead of providing free meals to underserved children at non-educational sites operated by nonprofit or for-profit restaurants in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Beyond, federal authorities allege the defendants took advantage of relaxed federal requirements intended to help children during the pandemic by falsifying documents to illegally obtain federal funds.

Prosecutors allege the defendants used federal money for their own gain, including for the purchase of luxury vehicles, international travel, residential and commercial real estate in Minnesota, Ohio and Kentucky; property on the beach in Kenya and property on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Turkey.

Abdirahman “Abcos” Ahmed, 54, a homeowner in Orange Township, Delaware County, is charged with conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. The restaurateur owned the now-closed Safari Restaurant & Banquet Center in Minneapolis, a contemporary Somali and African cuisine eatery that court documents say was paid more than $16 million in federal funds after reporting it was serving every day several thousand pandemic meals to children.

Ahmed moved to the Columbus area around 2018. During the 2020 pandemic, he and his wife opened the Afra Grill restaurant on Morse Road in the Northland area of ​​the city. A second location has opened in Easton Town Center and a third is planned in New Albany. Court records show he bought his Delaware County home for over $290,000, bought a 2021 Lexus for over $42,000 and helped buy a $2.4 million commercial building on Stelzer Road, in the northeast of the city.

Mahad Ibrahim, 46, who also owns a home in Orange Township, is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and money laundering. silver. Court documents and IRS filings show Ibrahim was president of the Minnesota nonprofit ThinkTechAct Foundation and owner of the for-profit Mind Foundry Learning Foundation, both of which operated out of from the same office in a co-working space at Southdale Mall in Edina, Minnesota.

Mind Foundry and ThinkTechAct, which according to IRS records lost their nonprofit status in 2020, housed a total of about two dozen restoration sites, records show. Ibrahim is accused of illegally receiving more than $20 million in federal funds, much of which was passed on to the owners of Empire Cuisine & Market in Shakopee, Minnesota.

Neither Ahmed nor Ibrahim could be reached for comment on Tuesday evening.

Senator Rob Portman:The COVID-19 relief fraud “probably the biggest fraud ever committed against the American people”.

Serving fake meals to fake children

Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of the Feeding Our Future program, has been charged by federal prosecutors with overseeing the alleged massive fraud scheme.

Court records indicate that Feeding Our Future employees allegedly recruited individuals and entities to open more than 250 Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout Minnesota. Employees of the nonprofit organization reportedly accepted kickbacks and bribes to admit certain individuals and entities into the program. Feeding Our Future is accused of fraudulently obtaining and disbursing more than $240 million in federal funds.

Prosecutors allege that the sites run by the defendants fraudulently claimed to serve meals to thousands of children a day just days or weeks after they were created.

The defendants are also accused of submitting fake attendance lists purporting to list the names and ages of children receiving meals at the sites each day and fraudulent bills, prosecutors say. The lists were fabricated and created using fake names, including one that used names from a website called www.listofrandomnames.com.

Other defendants used an Excel formula to insert a random age between seven and 17 into the age column of fake listings that were submitted for reimbursement.

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