Ilhan Omar sends donations from men named in food aid fraud probe to charities

Congresswoman Ilhan Omar’s office said her campaign donated thousands of dollars in contributions received from men suspected in FBI search warrants to defraud a federal program to feed the children.

In early 2021, two men named in recently unsealed search warrant affidavits donated a total of $5,400 to Ilhan’s campaign. FBI affidavits list Ahmed Ghedi and Abdihakim Ahmed as associates of the Safari Restaurant and Event Center. The two allegedly controlled shell companies that received $1.1 million in federal child nutrition funds from a Safari restaurant co-owner. The pair separately helped two others buy a $2.8 million Minneapolis mansion with money for child nutrition to use as an office building, according to the FBI.

Ahmed donated $2,700 to Ilhan’s campaign on February 23 and Abdihakim donated the same amount on March 31. Federal prosecutors have not charged Ahmed or Abdihakim, or anyone else named in the search warrants, with any crime.

Connor McNutt, Ilhan’s chief of staff, said the campaign recently donated the contributions to three local food shelves “out of an abundance of caution”. McNutt said the campaign made the donations after reviewing the contributions following the unsealing of the search warrant affidavits last month.

“We strongly encourage all other elected officials who have received donations from these appointees to donate their contributions to local food relief charities,” McNutt said in a prepared statement.

Ilhan is not the only elected official to receive donations from people named in the search warrants. Ahmed and Abdihakim also donated last year to Minnesota State Senator Omar Fateh and Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey. Following the allegations, Omar returned the donations while Frey told the Star Tribune he had no intention of keeping the money and was working with a lawyer to decide what to do with it.

Ilhan has donated his contributions to the Sabathani Community Center, the Shiloh Cares Food Shelf and the Indian Division of Labour. “All of these charities provide food aid, among other essential services, to several communities in Minneapolis,” McNutt said.

The allegations against Ahmed and Abdihakim are part of a federal investigation aimed at Fueling Our Future. This non-profit organization administered money from two federal programs, the Child and Adult Food Program and the Summer Food Service Program, passing it on to other non-profit organizations like after-school programs. school and day care centers to feed underprivileged children. Aimee Bock, executive director of Feeding Our Future, denies any wrongdoing.

The alleged fraud occurred in 2020 and 2021, when the federal government dramatically expanded the flexibility of food assistance programs in response to school closures across the country during the height of the COVID pandemic. Previously, most of that money went to public school districts.

The increased flexibility of federal food programs is the result of legislation Ilhan sponsored in 2020, the MEALS Act. Fourteen other members of Congress have co-sponsored legislation to ensure school meals for children who depend on them while schools are closed.

In total, Ilhan said the legislation ensured that 20 million children across the country were fed during the pandemic.

Last week, Ilhan sent a letter to US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, whose department oversees federal food aid programs, asking him to “root out any future misuse of federal funds.”

“Evidence shows that millions of children have benefited from these programs, especially in these unpredictable times,” Ilhan wrote. “However, recent investigations show that members of a nonprofit organization located in my district stole and laundered more than $200 million in USDA federal funds for personal benefits, such as real estate, travel and luxury goods.

Ilhan added that she was “appalled to hear of such heinous acts and the theft of resources strictly for our most vulnerable populations.”

In the letter, Ilhan asked Vilsack what his department was doing to investigate fraud in food aid programs, what steps the department was taking to recover the misappropriated money, and whether a portion of that money would go back to the communities that allegedly had to benefit from it in the first place. .

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