Feeding our fraud goes to trial

I went to federal court in downtown Minneapolis yesterday morning for the opening statements in tbe first Feeding Our Future fraud trial. When it comes to Covid fraud, we’re number 1. The case features a cast of “diverse” defendants without much diversity. They are almost all Somali, I am sorry to say. By the same token, I believe that one of my Somali friends helped expose the fraud and assist in the investigation.

All together, 70 defendants have been charged to date. Eighteen have pleaded guilty. One or two have agreed to cooperate with the prosecution. All the cases have been assigned to United States District Judge Nancy Brasel.

At the center of the fraud is a white woman — one Aimee Bock. She recruited a large cast of Somali immigrants to participate through her nonprofit Feeding Our Future, which sponsored most of the vendors who signed up to serve meals to kids at government expense during the Covid regime. Bock’s trial should be first, but instead we have the first group of seven Somali defendants in the current case. This case involves $40 million of the $250 million total that the government alleges to have been paid out as a result of the fraud.

KARE 11’s Lou Raguse is my favorite local reporter covering the case. Below is his report on the opening statements. The Star Tribune’s Kelly Smith has a good account here. The left-wing Minnesota Reformer has the dogged Deena Winter on the case. Her story is here. If you have any interest in the case, check out their stories.

It took the better part of a week to pick the jury because of pretrial publicity. The jurors and alternates selected for service know nothing of the case. If you went to the Minnesota State Fair and scooped up the first 18 people you ran into, you would have a good chance of ending up with these jurors. I want to offer just a few notes on the themes of the opening statements I saw yesterday.

The courtroom is packed with lawyers, defendants, and defense counsel. It is difficult to keep track of the players without a scorecard. The government is represented by four Assistant United States Attorneys. (One of them is the husband of a beloved cousin of mine. We are proud to have him in the family.)

The defendants include six young men and one young woman. The woman is alleged to have grifted $30,000. She is a bit player.

The government set the stage with a recollection of the Covid regime. Life changed in a moment (and not for the better, but the prosecutor didn’t exactly say that). In this case, the government started handing out cash in the name of “the children” and took down the guardrails that ordinarily constrain such handouts.

The defendants took advantage of the cash to feed the kids to enrich themselves. They perpetrated an epidemic of their own — an epidemic of lying and fraud. They claim to have served 18 million meals at small restaurants and other outlets in the metropolitan area and around the state, but they pocketed the children’s lunch money for themselves. They spent their exorbitant and ill-gotten gains on a lavish array of houses, real estate, global travel, luxury automobiles, and jewelry. The prosecutor displayed photos of boxes of cash taken by one or two of the defendants themselves and removed from their phones pursuant to search warrants executed in January 2022.

I wondered if the absence of Aimee Bock would be a problem for the government in the prosecution of these case. I also wondered if the government’s contribution to the fraud by relaxing the otherwise applicable rules would facilitate the defense of the cases.

I stayed around for three of the seven defendants’ opening statements. I found it hard to keep a straight face while listening to defense counsel and wondered how they kept it together themselves. Here are the themes I heard in no particular order. Please forgive the occasional repetition.

• These guys were entrepreneurs operating for-profit companies. The sponsors were nonprofits and they relied on them to navigate the system. Sure, they made a profit. That was the idea.

• “Waivers.” To maximize the beneficence of the free food programs, the Minnesota Department of Education waived otherwise applicable requirements. The defendants did the best they could to play by the rules left standing as they understood them.

• They delivered real food — “food not fraud.” I take it that pictures of bulk good in boxes will form a key part of the defense. Food was bought and delivered.

• The defendants operated in good faith. They did the best they could with a lack of clear guidance from the government. They will be pointing the finger at the government and Aimee Bock’s Feeding Our Future organization.

• What we have here is “Monday morning quarterbacking” by the government. That’s what the man said.

• The government’s key cooperating witness must be good. The best of the three defense lawyers went out of his way to characterize him as a liar seeking a good-conduct letter from the government to keep him out of jail. But — this is me talking — he is obligated to testify truthfully and Judge Brasel herself will render what she believes is the appropriate sentence under the sentencing guidelines.

• These young men made money fulfilling their dreams of success by working hard. It’s the American way.

• Each defendant’s personal story of emigration from Somalia to Minnesota featured the Somali civil war that “crashed down” on them. I couldn’t help but wonder, what about us?

• One of the defense lawyers referred to the four United States Attorneys prosecuting the case. He was all by his lonesome with his client. However, his client had a lot of company with the other defendants and their lawyers.

A final observation of my own. The seven defendants are well-dressed (the government appears not to have succeeded in confiscating all the funds in issue), young, and attractive in their own way. They look better than the shots in Lou Raguse’s story. I think they would have had a constructive contribution to make if they weren’t looking for, or susceptible to taking advantage of, the seams in a system that seems to abound in free money.

NOTE: John Hinderaker and Bill Glahn previewed this trial in their excellent April 19 Center of the American Experiment webinar. The video is accessible here at American Experiment’s site. Bill is an authority on the case.

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