First three guilty pleas in the Feeding Our Future case: what did we learn today?

KARE-11’s Lou Raguse spent his day at the Federal courthouse in Minneapolis. The U.S. Attorney put out a press release. In yesterday’s post, I covered the backstory of each of the three defendants to appear today.

This post will focus on what new details emerged today.

First up was Bekam Merdassa of Inver Grove Heights. Part of the S&S Catering network, his subgroup of three individuals took $3 million out of the free-food program, of which his cut was 10 percent. He faces 24-30 months in prison and has agreed to cooperate.

Next up was Hanna Marekegn of Edina. She ran the Brava Cafe of Minneapolis. She took $5.1 million from the program.

Subject to forfeiture are two properties Marekegn owns with her apparent husband: a condo in Edina valued at $153,000 and a house in Medina valued at $1.3 million. The husband has not been accused of any wrongdoing.

Lou Raguse reminds us that the Star Tribune published an interview with Marekegn last month. The interview took place in February and gives an insight into the alleged bribery/kickback element of the case. From the Star Tribune,

Tears welled in Hanna Marekegn’s eyes last winter as she said her catering business had crumbled financially because she refused to give a $150,000 kickback to Feeding Our Future, the nonprofit that she contends demanded the money in return for facilitating federal reimbursements for feeding needy children.

“I got terminated because I was asked to give a kickback and I refused to give the kickback,” Marekegn said in a February interview with the Star Tribune, adding that she couldn’t document it because it was a verbal request.

In court today, Marekegn admitted to paying one bribe, but refused a request for a second. She faces 37 to 46 months in prison.

Over the summer, we visited the home of Brava Cafe, located in this NE Minneapolis office building.

Last up was Hadith Ahmed of Eden Prairie. He is accused to taking bribes/kickbacks as a Feeding Our Future insider and operating his own nonprofit as part of the network. He faces 46 to 57 months and the Feds have seized more than $400,000 from his bank accounts.

Ahmed apparently accepted $1.3 million in bribes and received an additional $1.1 million for operating the food distribution site.

Sentencing for the three will occur on a future date.