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US Jury Convicts 5 Somali-Americans in $49m COVID-19 Food Scam

Storyline:National News, World

GOOBJOOG NEWS|MINNEAPOLIS: A federal jury has convicted five Somali-Americans for swindling the Federal Government to the tune of $49 million in a landmark case that involves 70 defendants accused of the grand scheme hatched at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The jury however acquitted two defendants. They faced a total of 41 charges — chiefly wire fraud, bribery and money laundering — alleging they claimed to give away 18.8 million meals to needy children from 50 sites across the state. Prosecutors said they fabricated invoices and submitted thousands of phony names of children in order to get $49 million in federal funds.

Said Shafii Farah and Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin were acquitted of all charges against them.

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah of Savage and Mohamed Jama Ismail of Savage incorporated Empire Cuisine & Market. He was convicted of six counts counts of wire fraud; one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery; two counts of federal programs bribery; 11 counts of money laundering; making false statements in a passport application; and one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering. He was acquitted of one count of wire fraud.

Empire Cuisine & Market and other affiliated sites received over $28 million in fraudulent federal child nutrition funds, prosecutors said.

Mohamed Jama Ismail of Savage was a co-owner of Empire Cuisine & Market, and prosecutors say he pocketed over $2 million in the scheme, buying a GMC pickup, two trucks for $167,000, and spending $137,000 to pay off the mortgage on the house he’d bought six years earlier.

Ismail was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and acquitted of another count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; and convicted of money laundering and conspiracy to money launder.

Abdimajid Mohamed Nur of Shakopee was convicted of four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud; four counts of money laundering and one count of conspiracy to money launder. He was acquitted of three counts of money laundering.

Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff of Bloomington was the chief executive officer of Afrique Hospitality Group, which used federal funds to build an East African community center in Bloomington. Shariff was convicted of two wire fraud charges and two money laundering charges and acquitted of two bribery charges.

Prosecutors said Shariff pocketed $1.3 million in 2021 working for Afrique and as a consultant to other entities involved in the food program, and invested over $1 million in cryptocurrency. They alleged he also gave a $250,000 kickback to a former Feeding Our Future employee named Ikram Yusuf Mohamed.

Shariff is probably the most well-known defendant, having created the annual Somali Diaspora Conference, started a podcast called Nomadic Hustle and worked in software engineering in Seattle before moving to Bloomington in the fall of 2020.

Hayat Mohamed Nur, 25, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, the sister of Abdimajid Nur, participated in the scheme by creating and submitting fraudulent meal count sheets, attendance rosters, and invoices.

Nur was convicted of four wire fraud counts and acquitted of money laundering.