17th guilty plea entered in the Feeding Our Future case

Sharon Ross, of St. Paul’s House of Refuge Outreach, entered a guilty plea yesterday in the free-food fraud case, in Federal court in Minneapolis.

Ross’ case is notable in that her jury trial, previously scheduled to begin later this month, was to have been the first trial to get underway in the sprawling scandal.

Ross became the 17th defendant convicted so far in the free-food scandal. She operated a food-distribution site in St. Paul under the name House of Refuge Outreach Twin Cities.

She incorporated this nonprofit in July 2021, and in its short lifespan is said to have collected somewhere between $2.4 and $2.8 million from the Federal free-food program. Her nonprofit does not seem to have gotten around to filing any tax returns.

We first wrote about Ross’ operation back in March 2022, a year before a Federal grand jury handed down its indictment (read the 12-count indictment here). The indictment (p. 6, paragraph 20) describes Ross’ involvement with Hanna Marekegn, guilty plea No. 3 in the case.

Ross’ nonprofit participated in the free-food program through the now-defunct nonprofit Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care). A separate feeding effort through the now-defunct nonprofit Feeding Our Future never got off the ground, despite the support of a local state senator.

Items subject to forfeiture under the indictment included Ross’ home.

Beyond the $2 million+ that House of Refuge received, the state’s Department of Education denied an additional $1 million in free-food claims submitted by Ross. The state cited Ross’ 2014 theft conviction as the reason for its claim denials.

In that 2014 case, Ross was convicted of misdemeanor theft, sentenced to 90 days in jail (suspended), and paid a $500 fine. A 2012 theft case was pled down to a petty misdemeanor, which resulted in a small fine.

In her plea agreement, Ross admitted to one count of wire fraud. She agreed to restitution in the amount of $2,434,360 and with the addition of her forfeited home, brings the dollar total to $2,837,491.

To date, none of the sixteen defendants convicted in the Federal free-food scandal have been sentenced.