What’s next for Feeding Our Future?

With the first trial in the sprawling free-food scandal now concluded, we consider the next steps for the remaining 40+ defendants in the case.

Friday afternoon, after seven weeks of trial and four days of deliberations, the jury announced its verdicts on the seven defendants associated with the now-closed Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine and Market.

With 41 counts in the indictment and seven defendants, the jury had to render 64 separate unanimous verdicts. Here are the official results,

Five defendants were found guilty of multiple felonies each, and two defendants were completely exonerated. Those last two were released from custody.

Bribery: the immediate task of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney is to find and prosecute the person(s) responsible for leaving the $120,000 cash bribe on the doorstep of Juror #52. It was reported that the FBI raided the home of Abdiaziz Farah in connection with the bribery probe.

Sentencing: the five convicted last week remain in custody, awaiting a sentencing date. They join 18 others who filed guilty pleas and are also awaiting their fate. The earliest guilty pleas were filed in the case more than a year-and-a-half ago, yet not a single convicted defendant has been sentenced.

More trials: What has been scheduled are more trials for the remaining defendants.

There was to have been an eighth defendant in the first trial, Mahad Ibrahim of ThinkTechAct (Defendant No. 17). Unfortunately, at the last minute, his attorney became unavailable, and his trial was postponed.

Most eagerly awaited is the trial for the lead group of defendants, which includes Aimee Bock (Defendant No. 1), the founder and CEO of the nonprofit company Feeding Our Future. The group includes 14 defendants, most of whom were associated with the now-closed Safari Restaurant of Minneapolis. Pre-trial motions are underway in that proceeding.

Defendant No. 5 of that group, Ahmed Sharif Omar-Hashim, filed Guity Plea No. 16 in the case, leaving 13 remaining defendants in that cohort. One defendant fled the country.

The third group included eight defendants centered around the Minneapolis company S&S Catering. Five defendants from this group have pled guilty. The trial date for the remaining three is To Be Determined.

The fourth group involves nine defendants associated with the company Haji’s Kitchen. The lead defendant, Haji Osman Salad, age 34, may or may not have an interesting backstory.

One member of this group fled the country. Three pled guilty, leaving the remaining five to stand trial beginning November 4.

As I’ve mentioned before, a Minnesota man sharing the name Haji Osman Salad and the same birth year appears as one of the main defendants in a sprawling Federal indictment filed in Nashville, TN, involving sex-trafficking and credit-card theft charges in 2010. The case was eventually dismissed.

A third Minnesota man with the name Haji Osman Salad and the same birth year was convicted of two felonies in two separate cases in 2010. In 2020, this Haji Osman Salad was the subject of an ultimately unsuccessful attempt at deportation.

This latter Haji appears to have had two juvenile cases where he was judged delinquent. In addition, there was a felony case dating from November 2020, where he was accused of using another person’s credit card. That case was later dismissed.

It is not known whether these are all different Haji Osman Salad’s or the same individual.

A fifth group involves three defendants associated with the JigJiga event center on Lake Street in Minneapolis. The lead defendant, Liban Alishire, pled guilty.

The remaining two JigJiga defendants are scheduled to go to trial on August 19.

A sixth group involves six members of the extended Jama family of Rochester. One defendant died of natural causes (for real). There has been little progress made on this case.

Other cases involving individuals or groups of defendants are at various pre-trial stages.

More guilty pleas: Now that a courtroom trial has produced five felony convictions, look for the remaining 41 defendants to reassess their positions. Those whose cases resemble those five who were convicted on multiple felony counts may decide to make their best deals, rather than face their own juries.

More indictments: Likewise, now that prosecutors know what will and will not play in court more indictments may follow. The names of three other large free-food nonprofits came up during the recent trial–Partners in Nutrition, d/b/a Partners in Quality Care, Youth Leadership Academy, d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Services, and Somali Community Resettlement Services. To date, no individual from any of those three entities have been indicted in the case, and perhaps never will.

Prosecutors may also look to expand past indictments to include new defendants. Take the example of Hoda Abdi, the most recent defendant and most recent guilty plea.

Her indictment mentions (by initials) five co-conspirators, not yet charged in the case, Abdi ran her operation out of a grocery, Alif Halal, located in a Burnsville strip mall.

Her now-closed grocery occupied the space on the far right. The market has reopened under a new name and new owner.

Abdi’s indictment (p. 6, paragraph 18) mentions by name a sixth co-conspirator, Abdulkadir Awale of Sambusa King, Defendant No. 56 and Guilty Plea No. 11. Awale’s Nawal Restaurant (still open) can be seen at the far left of the above picture. In Awale’s indictment, Nawal is mentioned several times (beginning p. 31 paragraphs 78, 83, and 94).

The other businesses shown above were NOT involved in the scandal.

More political fallout: This week the state’s Legislative Auditor office will release their much-anticipated report on the Dept. of Education’s (mis-)handling of the scandal. The report will be released 9 am Thursday (June 13).

The Auditor will present findings at a joint House/Senate committee meeting Thursday at 1 pm at the capitol.

Stay tuned!