Feeding Our Future has a ‘Serious Problem’

More shocking revelations from the free-food trial in Federal Court in Minneapolis.

In this fourth week of the first Feeding Our Future trial proper, seven (7) defendants associated with the now-closed Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine are on trial.

Over the past week, much testimony presented by prosecutors involved the recurring and odd (even comical) names of children recorded as having received free food.

IRS agent testifies about ‘peculiar’ names in food distribution sites in Feeding Our Future trial (startribune.com)

Investigator says Feeding Our Future defendants shared lists of fake names of children • Minnesota Reformer

IRS agent: Rosters used fake names in food-aid fraud (sahanjournal.com)

‘Rgian Pumqr’ and ‘Jeffrey Dharmer’ among names on Feeding Our Future meal lists | MPR News

The Star Tribune reports,

Three children all named “John Doe” allegedly received free food. So did a child named “Friday Donations,” month after month. And a child named “Getsaname Hester” was listed more than a dozen times in attendance rosters at food distribution sites run by defendants in the first Feeding Our Future trial.

Other names appeared, such as ” ‘Serious Problem,’ ‘Inactive,’ and ‘Angel Albino.’ ” The Sahan Journal adds the name “Unique Problem” and the members of the extended Doe family, “Veronica Doe, Patience Doe, Anita Doe, Flavor Doe, John Doe, and Joseph Doe.”

For their part, defendants have maintained that they faithfully recorded the names provided by food recipients and weren’t required to ask for identification.

More significantly, there appear to be “pages and pages of kids’ names, listed in the same order, reportedly receiving free meals every week, month after month.” And hundreds of the same names would appear on the rosters of multiple sites, at the same day and time, receiving meals many miles apart.

Prosecutors also put on the stand this week a forensic accountant,

FBI: Paper trail shows $25M in nutrition aid, only $3M spent on food (sahanjournal.com)

FBI accountant says of Feeding Our Future defendants’ bank records: ‘It was alarming’ • Minnesota Reformer

FBI expert: Feeding Our Future defendants used money meant for kids’ meals to supply their Shakopee restaurant (startribune.com)

The Sahan Journal reports,

Empire Cuisine, the Shakopee restaurant at the center of the ongoing Feeding Our Future trial, received $25 million in federal food money over a year and a half and spent just $3 million on food, according to an FBI forensic accountant who testified Tuesday.

Digging deeper,

Empire Cuisine spent $3.1 million on food between April 2020 and February 2022. But this included purchases for items like tea, coffee, and halal meat, which matched Empire Cuisine’s menu. The restaurant saw roughly $1 million in credit card revenue from food and item sales during the same period

To recap, the Feds say that Empire Cuisine received $25 million for distributing free food, but spent only $2.1 million buying food earmarked for the free-food operation.

Defendants turn that logic around, arguing that they used their superior business acumen to transform $2.1 million in bulk food purchases into many millions of meals (“real food for real kids”) for which the government reimbursed them at the standard rate. Like Rumpelstiltskin, the defendants were able to spin straw into gold and earn a healthy profit margin of almost 92 percent.

Later in the week, another prominent nonprofit name came up in the courtroom,

Somali nonprofit got a million-dollar cut from Feeding Our Future fraud, prosecutors say • Minnesota Reformer

We’ve been reporting on the nonprofit Somali Community Resettlement Services (SCRS) going back to March 2022. I’ve been careful to note that neither the politically-connected nonprofit, nor any individual associated with it, has been accused of any wrongdoing in the Feeding Our Future case. After courtroom testimony this week, I’m left with the question, “Why not?” Deena Winter of MN Reformer reports from Federal court,

[SCRS] sponsored eight distribution sites in Minnesota cities where the defendants claimed to serve thousands of meals and snacks daily in 2020 and 2021, for which it was reimbursed over $2.9 million via sponsoring nonprofit Partners in Nutrition, which submitted claims to the state Department of Education, which administered the USDA program. Of that, the Somali nonprofit paid the defendants and their various entities purporting to be serving meals $1.83 million, meaning it kept nearly $1.1 million, according to evidence presented by prosecutors.

It’s unclear how much of the $2.9 million, if any amount, was spent on food. As mentioned before, no one associated with SCRS is on trial, so questions about its involvement may never be answered.

On Sunday, SCRS’ name came up in debate on the floor of the state House of Representatives in a very different context. Among its many clients, SCRS works with Uber and is among nonprofits eligible for a new, state-mandated, nonprofit-run program to assist rideshare drivers. Again, the MN Reformer reports,

Republican lawmakers voiced sharp opposition to this provision, saying it could lead to fraud and graft. During debate on the bill, House Republicans pointed out that Uber currently contracts with the Somali Community Resettlement Services to help drivers, many of whom are East African. That organization has been linked to the sprawling $250 million Feeding Our Future fraud case.

“If they discover fraud in these nonprofits, and perhaps, there isn’t a darn one available without ties to fraud, well then what do these transportation network companies do?” said Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch. “Their hands are tied.”

A separate $2 million grant program for zero-interest car loans to rideshare drivers was dropped from the final version of the bill.

The current Feeding Our Future trial is expected to last until June.