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A fourth Minnesotan pleaded guilty Wednesday for his part in a massive federal nutrition program scandal, admitting to fabricating paperwork claiming to serve 1.3 million meals to thousands of needy kids in St. Paul but not actually serving any.

Abdul Abubakar Ali, 40, of St. Paul changed his plea in federal court, admitting to his role in the Feeding Our Future fraud case — a scheme that prosecutors have called the largest pandemic-related fraud case in the country.

Ali admitted to writing fake invoices during the COVID-19 pandemic. Under questioning from U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel, Ali said yes when asked whether he created sham companies to send the money "basically straight into your pockets."

Ali is the first defendant charged via indictment to change his plea since the first wave of charges were filed last month in the more than $250 million fraud scheme.

His attorney, Kevin Gregorius, said after the hearing that Ali, who has an electrical engineering degree, is a hardworking, loving father and husband and "deeply regrets his actions, and he is taking responsibility for his extremely minor role in this."

Ali ran a St. Paul food distribution site called Youth Inventors Lab that was sponsored by Feeding Our Future and received $3 million in federal reimbursements — some of which went to other defendants. He was charged in September with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

He pleaded guilty Wednesday to conspiracy to commit wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison, and he agreed to pay $122,000 in restitution. As part of a plea agreement, prosecutors agreed to dismiss the remaining charges.

So far, 50 people have been charged in the case, and the government has seized $50 million in property tied to the scheme, including 60 bank accounts, 45 parcels of real property, 14 vehicles, jewelry and other items.

Ali operated Youth Inventors Lab with Bekam Merdassa, 39, of Inver Grove Heights and Yusuf Bashir Ali, 40, of Vadnais Heights. Merdassa pleaded guilty earlier this month to conspiracy to commit wire fraud. Yusuf Ali has pleaded not guilty.

According to prosecutors' allegations, Abdul Ali approached Merdassa in about December 2020 with the idea of using a nonprofit Merdassa had created in 2017 — which was inactive for three years — as a food distribution site to receive federal reimbursements.

The meal programs, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reimburse schools, nonprofits and community organizations for providing snacks and meals to kids in need after school or during the summer.

Prosecutors allege that, from an office building off University Avenue in St. Paul that they leased from Yusuf Ali, the men claimed to serve thousands of hot meals seven days a week starting in January 2021, paying a vendor called S&S Catering more than $2.6 million for the food.

Youth Inventors Lab also paid invoices to Bilterms Solutions owned by Abdul Ali for $20,000 supposedly for technology and data management. Prosecutors say Bilterms Solutions didn't provide any legitimate services.

Both Abdul Ali and Yusuf Ali used Franklyn Transportation, registered in 2020 at a Minneapolis apartment in the Seward neighborhood, as a shell company to hide and disguise money, transferring thousands of dollars between the entities, prosecutors said.

Qamar Hassan, 53, of Brooklyn Park, who ran S&S Catering, has also been charged in the case and has pleaded not guilty.