The curious case of the foodless food charity
It turns out that giving away free food to poor hungry children was an extremely lucrative enterprise in 2021. I’ve mentioned before how hundreds of nonprofits sprung up overnight (or…
The Feeding Our Future scandal largely disappeared from the radar of local media this summer. However, court cases involving the state’s three-largest free-food charities reveal that the battle continues to rage.
The three nonprofits — Feeding Our Future, Partners in Nutrition, and Gar Gaar Family Services — collectively took out nearly a half-billion dollars from two Federal programs: the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). All three nonprofits were shut down by the state Department of Education (MDE).
After the FBI raids of January 20, Feeding Our Future decided to dissolve their corporation and go out of business. Since early March, they have been involved in a proceeding in state court with the Attorney General of Minnesota over the orderly winding up of the business.
A document filed in that case last month revealed that the Feds seized all of Feeding Our Future’s financial assets back in January, the day before the FBI raids, including $3.5 million in bank accounts. What little else remained of the company (furniture, office equipment, etc.) has already been sold off.
The second company, Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care) is trying to revive their business. They were also shut down by MDE immediately after the FBI raids in January. Although mentioned in the search warrants, the company itself was not searched and is not a target of their investigation.
They are suing MDE in Federal court for reinstatement to the program. Their case is complicated by some details revealed in FBI affidavits aimed at two of Partners’ food vendors, the co-owners of Empire Cuisine restaurant.
The co-owners, Mohamed Jama Ismail (20%) and Abdiaziz Farah (80%), were both arrested by the FBI on passport fraud charges this spring as each attempted to flee the country. Neither man, nor anyone else, has been arrested or charged in the underlying fraud case.
That said, the April 21 affidavit against Ismail indicates that he was told in February “that he was likely going to be indicted for his role in the scheme” (paragraph 26, page 8).
In the May 20 affidavit against Farah, the FBI revealed for the first time the involvement of a Partners board member in the alleged scheme.
Beginning paragraph 36, page 12, the FBI outlines the role played by Julius Scarver (identified by the initials J.S.). Scarver, while serving on Partner’s board, founded another nonprofit, The Free Minded Institute, to distribute food under the Partners’ banner. The FBI documents how Scarver distributed $2.5 million in free-food money from Partners to his food vendor Empire Cuisine. The FBI records show how Scarver took some of the money for himself, in addition to receiving kickbacks from Empire. The Free Minded Institute operated for less than six months and appears to have had no headquarters.
The affidavits against Farah and Ismail make for fascinating reading. They reveal how much money the FBI seized from the Empire Cuisine empire ($6.2 million) and how much money was diverted to China and Kenya ($1.5 million).
The Somali-born Farah claimed to a friend (p. 31) that he has invested more than $6 million in Kenya.
In the May affidavit against Farah, the story of how the FBI seized his original passport (which he reported as “lost”) is told. It begins (paragraph 69, page 24) with his May 2021 purchase of a Jeep Wrangler Unlimited for $79,389 (Unlimited? I should say so.). In August 2021, he traded in the Jeep for a Porsche Macan SUV (also $79,000).
That same month, he bought a GMC Sierra pickup for $65,000. In October, he bought a Nissan Murano SUV ($47,000) and in December a Tesla Model Y ($80,000).
All four vehicles were seized by the FBI in the January raids. In the console of Farah’s Sierra, they found his passport with an envelope containing $18,000 in cash.
In the backseat, the FBI found a laptop bag with another $42,500 in cash.
In his day job, Farah was the founder and director of the Gateway STEM charter school in Burnsville. Along with running its own free-food operation, the school also accepted state taxpayer money, as a public school. Total dollars received by Gateway from MDE are approaching $14 million over its five years of operation.
Farah is still listed in Gateway’s staff directory.
In addition to suing MDE in Federal court for reinstatement, Partners in Nutrition is suing MDE in state appeals court for payment of hundreds of invoices representing millions of dollars dating from November 2021 through May 2022.
For the vast majority of unpaid invoices, MDE cites incomplete (or missing) documentation. But for a dozen or so invoices dated from November and December 2021, MDE flat-out refuses to pay because they involve figures named in the FBI search warrants.
In addition, Partners is suing MDE for the agency’s refusal to admit an additional 213 new locations into the program.
Also suing MDE in the state appeals court is the nonprofit Gar Gaar Family Services (a/k/a Youth Leadership Academy. MDE suspended Gar Gaar from the program in December 2021 and was not named in any of the January FBI search warrants.
Gar Gaar won an earlier appeal for reinstatement, but so far, MDE has not budged. The appeal was filed back in March, but it seems likely to extend into 2023.
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