Feeding Our Future trial: the math doesn’t lie

We’re nearing the end of the epic first trial in the Feeding Our Future scandal. The trial began in late April and will continue into June.

Closing arguments began yesterday (Friday) and will resume early Monday morning. Jury deliberations will begin next week.

Yesterday, the prosecution began final presentations to the jury, followed by lawyers representing four of the seven defendants on trial. With the latter, there was yelling, there was fist pounding.

You will not be surprised to hear that the defense lawyers brazenly used their clients’ own brazenness as evidence of their innocence.

The other three defense lawyers will present on Monday, followed by the prosecution’s rebuttal.

The prosecution gets the last word in the case because they bear the burden of proof. I attended, in person, the afternoon session yesterday. Over the course of 3 1/2 hours, I heard two lawyers present closing arguments for two of the defendants.

First up Friday afternoon was the attorney for Defendant No. 18 in the overall case, Abdimajid Nur, age 21. You will recall the young Nur from the “champagne in the Maldives” headlines. His old-school, New York lawyer spoke for more than 100 minutes without a break, without a/v aids, without any props or charts, just spoken words.

Similar to what we heard from Defendant No. 21, Mukhtar Shariff, Nur’s attorney went with the “just following orders” defense. He presented his client as just a young man, fresh out of the service, working hard at his first real job, not knowing the contents or significance of any of those emails he was sending out on behalf of others.

The attorney for Defendant No. 19, Said Farah, took the jury through a 90-minute, PowerPoint-style presentation. Said is the older brother of Abdiaziz Farah, Defendant No. 15. We heard from Said’s attorney variations of the classics “am I my brother’s keeper?” and “is it a crime to love your brother?”

As the co-owner of Bushra Wholesalers, an alleged food supplier, Said’s attorney portrayed him as a background player, not directly involved.

All four defense attorneys who presented on Friday trashed government witness Hadith Ahmed. He is Defendant No. 46 and Guilty Plea No. 2. The defense reminded the jury, over and over again, that Ahmed is a convicted felon, seeking to reduce (or avoid) his prison sentence.

Ahmed was a former Feeding Our Future employee, an insider who explained to the jury earlier in the trial how the scam operated.

On Friday, defense lawyers trashed Ahmed, Ikram Mohamed (Defendant No. 63), and the members of the Safari Restaurant group, Defendant Nos. 1-14. These were the real crooks, but somehow they expect the jury to believe that their clients’ extensive business dealings with those other 16 defendants were completely above board.

The race card was subtly played, but not too heavy-handed, compared to earlier efforts with the tactic.

Defense lawyers baldly state that the prosecution did not meet their burden. The defense imagines that the prosecution could have, but refused to, conduct an entirely different sort of investigation, in an alternate universe, where they would have discovered voluminous and convincing evidence of their clients’ collective innocence.

Piercing through the smokescreen, we finally get to the heart of the case. Among the defense counsel, Said’s lawyer best summarized the prosecution’s case: the accused padded their meals claims under the free-food programs.

To use my own example, say the defendants fed 100 children: they would then bill the government for 1,000. Or say they fed 1,000: they would bill for 10,000.

To use round numbers, in this trial, the prosecution showed that the defendants received $40 million from the government for serving meals. After combing through the relevant banking records, the prosecution could find that the defendants only spent $4 million or so on actually buying food. Defendants spent much of the rest on real estate (here and abroad) cryptocurrency, luxury automobiles, jewelry, etc.

The defense counters with saying that’s the wrong analysis: the case “is about food, not money.” The defendants purchased “millions of dollars” of food, distributing “tons and tons” to children,

They offer the example that a single bag of rice can produce many servings, etc.

Ok. I’ll bite.

The defendants collectively billed the government for serving 18 million meals, almost all within calendar year 2021. That works out to more than 346,000 meals per week (defendants claimed to deliver meals weekly, on Saturdays). How much does a meal for a child weigh?

Let’s assume a conservative 1/2 pound per meal. Of course, the defendants didn’t deliver prepared meals, they delivered uncooked groceries. Whole onions and oranges, unpeeled bananas, bags of rice were shown and discussed. Between food packaging and food waste, were talking about much higher tonnage.

Sticking with the 1/2 lb. per meal, that’s 173,000 pounds of food per week. That’s 86 tons, per week, just for the finished food itself. We were shown pictures of a couple of box trucks. How much can a box truck carry on a single trip? Somewhere between 4 to 7 tons of cargo?

Consider the bags. We were told in defense testimony that you could fit one week of meals (14 meals) for two children (28 meals) in a single grocery bag. Each bag would weigh at least 14 pounds.

In a week, 346,000 meals turn into 12,000 bags. The photos shown in court showed no more than a few dozen or, a most, a few hundred at a time.

Let’s just take one food distribution site. We’re told the pictures were from a site that consistently served more than 2,000 children every week. That’s more than 1,000 bags per week, every week. Where was the rest of the food?

I measured a paper grocery bag I had handy: it’s 14 inches by 12 inches by 7 inches. How big an area would that fill? Each bag takes up 84 square inches of floor or table space. 1,000 bags occupy 84,000 square inches, or over 580 square feet.

A box truck takes so many gallons of fuel to transport so many tons of food so many miles.

You can talk all you want about the “informal economy,” but bulk food is not produced within the informal economy. Every truckload of food produces reams of paperwork.

Forget checks and invoices, where are the industry equivalent of bills of lading? If I were running a business of this size ($40 million/yr.) I would have receipts for every pound of food delivered, every gallon of gas purchased for my fleet of trucks.

Math is relentless. Either the sums add up, or they do not.

The defense team has had nearly 2 years to assemble this information to rebut the government’s money-based analysis. I was able to do the above calculations in about an hour.

It may have taken six weeks to plow through, but the case is quite simple: either the defendants acquired enough tons of food to deliver 18 million meals, or they didn’t. Math never lies.

For other perspectives, here are media accounts of yesterday’s arguments,

Attorneys give closing arguments in Feeding Our Future trial (sahanjournal.com)

Attorneys begin giving closing arguments in Feeding Our Future trial (startribune.com)

After 5 weeks, Feeding Our Future trial wraps with closing arguments | MPR News

Closing arguments in Feeding Our Future trial | kare11.com

A verdict could be reached as early as next week.