A Shakopee man has become the 50th person charged so far in the Feeding Our Future-related fraud scheme, the largest pandemic fraud in the country.
In a federal indictment unsealed Wednesday, Abduljabar Hussein, 42, was charged with wire fraud, federal programs bribery, money laundering and other charges for his involvement in what prosecutors say is a more than $250 million scheme to steal money meant to feed needy children during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hussein is the husband of Mekfira Hussein, 38, also of Shakopee, who was charged and arrested in September. She ran the Brooklyn Center nonprofit, Shamsia Hopes. Prosecutors say her husband created Oromia Feeds LLC in December 2020 to supply food to her nonprofit.
Prosecutors allege the couple created fake invoices and claimed to feed thousands of children a day, but spent only a fraction of their federal reimbursement money on food. Instead, the prosecutors say, the couple pocketed millions of dollars for themselves.
Abduljabar Hussein was represented Wednesday by a public defender who couldn't be reached for comment. Attorney Jason Steck, who represents Mekfira Hussein, said she was scammed by a Feeding Our Future employee who submitted fraudulent invoices that appeared to be from her and who made it look as if he was assisting the couple.
"Ms. Hussein was serving the kids that she claimed to be serving, and we believe the evidence is going to prove that," Steck said. "Over 90% of that [federal funding she received] was actually spent on food that was distributed to children."
Steck said Abduljabar Hussein was a legitimate vendor buying food for children.
"The inferences that the government drew from the evidence that it did obtain weren't correct and when the evidence is fully revealed, then they'll discover that Ms. Hussein did nothing wrong and was feeding the children that she said she was feeding," Steck said.
"Having not seen the government's evidence yet, I don't want to comment on exactly where they went off the rails, but I just know that they did."
According to the indictment, Shamsia Hopes claimed to serve more than 3.4 million meals in 2020 and 2021. The organization received $7.8 million in those two years, and Mekfira Hussein transferred a bulk of that to Oromia Feeds, paying the vendor to provide food dating to October 2020 — two months before the company was created. The FBI says bank records show much of the money went to personal expenses, including a Porsche and other luxury vehicles and paying off the couple's Shakopee home mortgage.
Prosecutors say the couple also gave thousands of dollars in kickbacks disguised as consulting fees to a Feeding Our Future employee, Abdikerm Abdelahi Eidleh, who also has been charged in the conspiracy and is accused of pocketing millions of dollars in bribes and kickbacks. Agents have said Eidleh has fled the country.
In court documents, prosecutors said Mekfira Hussein claimed to be serving breakfast and lunch to more than 5,000 children a day, seven days a week in March 2021 out of Brooklyn Park office building. But when a Minnesota Department of Education staffer visited the site in July 2022, no one knew of any food program, prosecutors wrote.
FBI agents raided Feeding Our Future's offices and other sites in January, and the Education Department, which administers the federal nutrition program, cut off funding to the organization and its subcontractors. The Education Department, which began denying applications and funding to Feeding Our Future in 2020, had reported the organization to the FBI in 2021.
When reached by the Star Tribune in January after the FBI investigation became public, Mekfira Hussein said she had lost her funding as a result.
"For those of us who are actually doing the work, it is sad," she said at the time. "These are children. It's like you're taking food off children's plates and taking it for yourself. Who does that? It's hard to believe."
She said she worried that investigations would target all organizations run by East African immigrants, including legitimate ones.
"I'm sure there are a lot of people like me who are actually doing the work," she said. "We're right here next to the FBI [office in Brooklyn Center] so they can walk in here and see what we do."
So far, three defendants, including a Feeding Our Future employee, have pleaded guilty and paid restitution. The government has so far seized $50 million in property tied to the scheme, including 60 bank accounts, 45 parcels of real property, 14 vehicles, jewelry and other items.