Feeding Our Future trial: under the bus edition

I spent all of today attending the first Feeding Our Future trial in Federal court in downtown Minneapolis. This trial involves seven (7) defendants associated with the now-closed Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine.

We are at the closing stages, the final two witnesses appeared today. Closing arguments will begin tomorrow morning and extend until Monday.

The main witness was one of the defendants, Mukhtar Shariff, the CEO of Afrique Hospitality Group of Bloomington, MN. Shariff is Defendant No. 21 (of 70 total) in the case.

Shariff is the only one of the seven now on trial to either (1) mount a defense, (2) call witnesses, or (3) testify on his own behalf. Over the past two days, Shariff called ten witnesses to testify, himself included.

Shariff’s turn on the witness stand took nearly all day, but was interrupted this morning by the appearance on the stand of one of his Afrique investors. Sulekha Hassan, a mother of seven, immigrated from Somalia to America in 2002. She spoke through an interpreter and was summoned as a witness for the defense.

Ms. Hassan managed to cobble together $460,000 to plow into Afrique’s vision of a for-profit cultural campus in Bloomington.

The cross examination by the prosecution of this witness was brief, but devastating. It turns out that Ms. Hassan incorporated an unrelated business called Mimi’s Bakery in December 2021. Hassan received a $250,000 investment (described by her as a loan) from someone named “Hamdi” whose last name Hassan never bothered to learn.

It turns out that Hamdi is Hamdi Omar, Defendant No. 12 in the free-food scandal, but not on trial in the current proceeding.

Back to Shariff. You will recall that the name Mahad Ibrahim (Defendant No. 17) kept coming up among Shariff’s witnesses yesterday. Ibrahim was originally supposed to be the 8th defendant in this trial, but his lawyer became unavailable at the very last instant, for reasons not publicly disclosed. So, Ibrahim was excused for now, with a separate trial to follow later. Within the scandal, Ibrahim is best known as the founder of the nonprofit company thinktechact.

Ibrahim served in many other roles, among them as Afrique CFO. To oversimplify, Shariff tossed “Dr. Mahad” under the bus. Shariff portrayed himself, the corporate CEO of a multi-million-dollar enterprise, as a glorified food warehouse foreman, paid a paltry $1.3 million for 10 months’ work.

Despite his exalted title of CEO, as effectively only the CWO, Shariff claimed to have no knowledge of anything occurring outside of the warehouse. All details of the food-service business (Afrique’s only source of revenue during its short existence) were handled by the Svengali-like Ibrahim, who is conveniently absent from the courtroom.

Time and again, Shariff denied any knowledge of the contents of the contracts he signed, claims he submitted, government documents he filed, etc. Shariff was merely the frontman, featured in all the promotional materials, legal documents, and investment pitch decks, but in practicality, exiled to the warehouse and assigned to fill bags of groceries. Or so he says.

A roundup of media coverage of the final day of testimony:

Fraud defendant says ‘respected’ community member recruited him (sahanjournal.com)

Feeding Our Future defendant, who made $1.3 million in single year, says he gave food away • Minnesota Reformer

Defendant in Feeding Our Future trial testifies he distributed ‘tons’ of food (startribune.com)

At the Feeding Our Fraud trial | Power Line (powerlineblog.com)

On a personal note, it was great to meet the local journalists who are in the courtroom every day, week after week.