3 degrees of separation: the inevitable rideshare/ Feeding Our Future connections

A reader sent me this piece in the MN Reformer, reporting on the ongoing efforts of Uber and Lyft to leave the Minneapolis market as the city implements new rideshare regulations. The Reformer headline:

Uber closes driver resource center in Minneapolis despite delay to minimum pay ordinance

The city postponed the start date for the new regulations to July 1, but Uber has gone ahead and closed its south Minneapolis office that had previously helped drivers with a variety of issues. The Reformer reports:

Uber contracts with the Somali Community Resettlement Services to provide assistance to drivers, many of whom are East African immigrants. The company declined to disclose the cost of the contract.

That name should sound familiar, as it was the subject of my post yesterday.

Before we proceed, a disclaimer: no organization or individual mentioned below has been accused of any wrongdoing. We are merely connecting the dots.

Although the nonprofit itself is not charged in the Feeding Our Future case, the name Somali Community Resettlement Services appears 43 times in the prosecutor’s exhibit list filed for the Federal criminal trial set to begin on Monday in Minneapolis.

But wait, it gets better. The Reformer reports that state legislators are considering the idea of having government to fund the driver service nonprofit.

It’s unclear if Uber would bring back a driver resource center, should state lawmakers reach a deal that funds a nonprofit organization.

Still with me? I need to connect a few more dots:

The Reformer reports that Lyft has sought to contract with a different group, seeking out the driver advocacy organization Minnesota Uber/Lyft Drivers Association (MULDA).

MULDA was founded as a nonprofit company in June 2022. Its mission is to promote rideshare regulations at both the city and state level.

In 2023, the state legislature passed a bill setting a minimum wage for Uber and Lyft drivers. However, the bill was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Tim Walz.

The bill was pushed by state Sen. Omar Fateh (DFL-Minneapolis), who, coincidentally was one of the biggest recipients of campaign donations from figures in the unrelated Feeding Our Future scandal.

As efforts to impose a rideshare driver minimum wage in Minneapolis and statewide have dragged on, MULDA has spawned a splinter group which calls itself MULDA Members.

Last week, The Reformer reported on a split between MULDA Members and Sen. Fateh on legislative strategy (see story, last sentence).

A frequent spokesperson for the Members group is an individual named Yusuf Haji (quoted by Fox 9, Sajan Journal, Star Tribune, among other outlets).

Scrolling back through Haji’s Twitter (X) account reveals that he has been involved in city politics for years. In 2021, Haji ran for the city council Ward 9 seat. This tweet announced an October 2021 campaign event held at the JigJiga event center:

Under the name “Yussuf,” Haji finished a distant third in that race for an open seat, earning 842 votes, behind the winner, Jason Chavez.

A MinnPost profile of Haji for that 2021 race reverses his name as Haji Yussuf. MinnPost mentions an earlier run by Haji for Congress in 2020, going up against incumbent Ilhan Omar in the 5th District. Prior to the Democratic primary that year, Haji withdrew from the race and endorsed Omar.

Until five years ago, Haji resided in St. Cloud. His name is also rendered in legal documents alternatively as Saeed Yusuf Haji and Saed Haji Yussuf.

Back in 2016, MinnPost reported on his efforts to build cross-cultural unity in that community.

Alas, unity was not to be found. In 2019, Haji penned an opinion piece documenting his move from St. Cloud to Burnsville. Unfortunately for Haji, he’s encountered the same old problems in his new home.

But back to Feeding Our Future. In March 2022, the Star Tribune quoted Haji on his concerns regarding the then-new free-food scandal,

“People are scared,” said Yussuf Haji, an activist and writer who ran for a Minneapolis City Council seat in November. “People are looking for answers, and that has also created some sort of tension in the community.”

MinnPost‘s profile on Haji’s 2021 city council run notes that he operates an organic cosmetics company, along with his wife.

His spouse also boasts of another effort for which she was one of several co-founders, this one in the nonprofit world. This nonprofit was incorporated in October 2020, listing a St. Paul address, according to records on file with the MN Secretary of State’s office.

According to records maintained by the state Dept. of Education (MDE), that nonprofit later on happened to register a free-food distribution site under Feeding Our Future, at the nonprofit’s St. Paul address. The site listed a maximum daily capacity of 500 children per day.

[Update: I have been contacted by the principals mentioned above and they have clarified that none had any involvement with the events described immediately above.]

It is not known to what extent, if any, the nonprofit actually participated in the free-food program. A data request submitted last month to MDE has gone unanswered.

According to records kept by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service, the nonprofit received its tax-exempt status in July 2021, retroactive back to October 2020. However, in 2023, that status was revoked for failure to file any tax returns.

Again, no organization or individual mentioned or inferred in this post has been accused of any wrongdoing.

It looks like I’m going to need more red string to connect all the dots.