Is welfare fraud funding Al-Shabaab?

$100 million in cash was allegedly carried to the Mideast via MSP airport in 2017 alone.

Something is rotten in Minnesota: our social welfare state is being leveraged by the U.S. State Department, and defrauded to fund Islamic terror abroad.

Prompted by an explosive Fox 9 News report, a Minnesota Senate committee last month heard testimony that Minnesota’s welfare programs are being defrauded of tens of millions of dollars, with some ending up in the hands of terror groups, including Al-Shabaab in Somalia. The news report said that U.S. Customs reports show $100 million in cash left via the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport (MSP) last year, on its way to Somalia and various Mideast destinations. Incredibly, you can take an unlimited amount of cash out of the country if you fill out the proper form with U.S. Customs.

The Fox 9 News report focused on a welfare program that provides child care to low-income parents. The Department of Human Services (DHS) disputes that the $100 million flown out of MSP could all come from the child care program because the total budget for 2017 was $248 million. DHS also told the Star Tribune that “payments on behalf of Somali children account for just 28 percent of the roughly $250 million in annual payments…” It is interesting that DHS said “just 28 percent.” That nearly a third of a welfare program budget is going to one refugee group, is startling.

Thirteen child care centers have been closed due to welfare fraud by DHS since 2014, and another ten are under active investigation. The Senate committee heard testimony that most of these centers are owned by Somali immigrants.

“Sources in the Somali community told Fox 9 it is an open secret that starting a daycare center is a license to make money. The fraud is so widespread, they said, that people buy shares of daycare businesses to get a cut of the huge public subsidies that are pouring in.”

Since Somalia failed as a state in 1991, the U.S. State Department has arranged for a steady flow of Somali refugees to come to the United States. One of the main criteria for placement of refugees is a generous welfare system; another is the presence of “kith and kin.” As a result, Minnesota is now the number one destination for refugees on a per capita basis in the nation.

Though no one agrees on the number, Minnesota has the largest population of Somalis in the country. The state demographer reported 46,693 in 2015. Hennepin County Sheriff Rick Stanek, however, told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism and Homeland Security in 2012 that he estimated the population at 80,000 to 125,000. He was testifying because Minnesota has the largest number of identified recruits to ISIS.

In theory, some of the cash flown out of MSP represents the transfer of funds used by immigrants worldwide to help relatives, called “Hawala.” Hawala avoids the costs and regulations of banks, and facilitates cash transfers to countries that banks stopped serving when two Somali-American women were convicted of wiring funds to Al-Shabaab. Most observers assume that Al-Shabaab takes a cut of Hawala cash in regions it controls.

Other Medicaid programs, like the personal care attendant (PCA) program, are also vulnerable to fraud. Former DHS investigator Scott Stillman told the Senate committee, “The dollar amount, particularly personal care attendant fraud, way exceeds the daycare fraud, but most of that money is going to extravagant lifestyles, drugs, large houses. Things of that nature. But there’s no controls. I should say, they’re inadequate.”

State Senator John Jasinski (R-Faribault) told his colleagues that he did his own investigation; county employees told him that a family of five was getting $10,000 a month in welfare payments. When they tried to alert their supervisors, they were told, “We can’t bring this up.”

Scott Stillman testified that data privacy rules made it hard to report suspected fraud. He wrote detailed emails to his supervisors and even the governor, to no avail. Stillman, who quit his job, said the funds going overseas were “keeping him up at night.” After terror attacks here and abroad, he would wonder if Minnesota tax dollars had funded the operation.

Stillman called for a federal investigation, predicting it would reveal “other entities” who may be receiving “benefits” from this fraud that could impede a state-level investigation.

Welfare fraud is not new. Minnesota has had some spectacular instances of fraud committed by home-grown U.S. citizens, one of whom operated her business out of a prison on a government computer.

But this latest revelation suggests that Minnesota has been hit by a perfect storm of federal indifference, state incompetence and a sinister brand of international fraud. This fraud not only steals from the vulnerable, it violates the trust between citizens and the state. Moreover, if the allegations about funds going to Al-Shabaab are true, the refugee program is making it harder for Somalis at home and overseas, to bring peace to their war-torn country.

President Trump promised a full review of the refugee program. Mr. President, Minnesota would be a good place to start.