At the Feeding our Fraud trial: Mostly guilty

After three-plus days of deliberation, the jury returned with its verdict in the massive Feeding Our Future fraud trial. The verdict was read in open court at 1:00 p.m (CDT) this afternoon by Minnesota Chief Federal District Judge Pat Schiltz, our former law partner. This was the first of the trials to be held in the Feeding Our Future case, involving some $40 million in fraudulent transactions. In total the case involves some $250 million in fraudulent transactions.

The jury acquitted two of the defendants on all of the charges against them. The jury convicted the remaining five defendants of a majority of the charges against them. Here is the rundown provided by Star Tribune reporter Kelly Smith:

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah – Guilty on all counts but one Wire Fraud

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1
• Wire Fraud in Counts 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, and 11
• Conspiracy to Commit Federal Programs Bribery Count 13
• Federal Programs Bribery in Counts 14 and 17
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20
• Money Laundering in Counts 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 29, 32, 33, 37, 39, and 42
• False Statement in a Passport Application in Count 43

Mohamed Jama Ismail – Guilty on all counts but Wire Fraud

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1- Guilty
• Wire Fraud in Count 2 -Not guilty
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20 – Guilty
• Money laundering- Guilty

Abdimajid Mohamed Nur – Guilty on all counts but three counts of money laundering

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1
• Wire Fraud in Counts 3, 4, 6, and 12
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20
• Money Laundering in Counts 24, 25, 29, 34, 35, 38, 41

Said Shafii Farah – Not guilty on all counts

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1
• Wire Fraud in Count 12
• Conspiracy to Commit Federal Programs Bribery in Count 13
• Federal Programs Bribery in Counts 16, 18, and 19
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20
• Money Laundering in Counts 21 and 40

Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin – Not guilty on all counts

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20
• Money Laundering in Count 27

Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff – Guilty on four counts, not guilty on two counts.

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1 – Guilty
• Wire Fraud in Count 8 – Guilty
• Conspiracy to Commit Federal Programs Bribery in Count 13 – Not guilty
• Federal Programs Bribery in Count 15 – Not guilty
• Conspiracy to Commit Money Laundering in Count 20 – Guilty
• Money Laundering in Count 31 -Guilty

Hayat Mohamed Nur – Guilty on three counts, not guilty on two counts

• Wire Fraud Conspiracy in Count 1 – Guilty
• Wire Fraud in Counts 4 – Not guilty
• Wire Fraud in Counts 10 and 11 – Guilty
• Money Laundering in Count 34 – Not guilty

As I say, this was a massive case featuring a large cast of seven defendants — the biggest criminal trial ever in federal court here. It can’t have been an easy case for the prosecutors to try. Lead prosecutor Joe Thompson took two hours for a closing argument (and 45 minutes rebuttal) summarizing the numerous charges against each of the defendants. Defense counsel took something like 10 hours over two days to make their closing arguments.

Thompson might have slighted the argument to be made against one or more of the defendants in his closing, but the prosecution largely prevailed. The not-guilty verdicts on some of the bribery charges may reflect doubt about the government’s cooperating witness on the bribery allegations. That witness has pleaded guilty and has yet to be sentenced by Judge Brasel.

Attorney Steve Schleicher gave the best defense closing. His client (Said Farah) was acquitted. I thought if Farah had the funds to pay Schleicher’s hourly rate the government must have left a lot of cash on the table when it executed its warrant on defendants’ premises in January 2022.

Of all the defendants, it seemed to me that that Hayat Nur was the likeliest to be acquitted. She came across as something of a bit player. Her brother — Abdiaziz Farah — not so much. In the event, however, the jury convicted her on three of the five charges against her. Her guilty brother was also convicted of passport fraud. He seems not to have planned on sticking around town after the 2022 FBI raid.

Only one of the seven defendants testified at trial. That was Muktar Shariff. I found him to be a cold-blooded liar with a pat series of disclaimers seeking to exculpate himself from his obvious fraud. I would have been distraught if he had been acquitted.

Matt Sepic covered the trial for Minnesota Public Radio. MPR (Sepic, I assume) has a good summary of Thompson’s cross-examination of Shariff in his post-verdict retrospective here.

Bloomington’s Dar Al-Farooq Islamic Center was Shariff’s initial base of operations. Dar A-Farooq was also the scene for some of the defendants’ planning to join ISIS in the 2016 terrorism trial that I reported on daily in my “‘Minnesota men’ go to trial” series on Power Line. The two cases crossed over at Dar Al-Farooq.

The government held a post-verdict press conference this afternoon and issued a statement on the jury’s verdict. Here is the office’s written statement on each of the convicted defendants:

• Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, of Savage, Minnesota, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, six counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, two counts of federal programs bribery, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, 11 counts of money laundering, and one count of false statements in a passport application. Abdiaziz Farah was an owner and operator of Empire Cuisine and Market LLC, a for-profit restaurant that participated in the scheme as a site, as a vendor for other sites, and as an entity to launder fraudulent proceeds. Empire Cuisine and Market and other affiliated sites received more than $28 million in fraudulent Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

• Mohamed Jama Ismail, of Savage, Minnesota, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering. Ismail was an owner and operator of Empire Cuisine and Market LLC, a for-profit restaurant that participated in the scheme as a site, as a vendor for other sites, and as an entity to launder fraudulent proceeds. Empire Cuisine and Market and other affiliated sites received more than $28 million in fraudulent Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

• Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, of Shakopee, Minnesota, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and four counts of money laundering. Abdimajid Nur created Nur Consulting LLC to receive and launder Federal Child Nutrition Program funds from Empire Cuisine and Market, ThinkTechAct, and other entities involved in the scheme.

• Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, of Bloomington, Minnesota, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, one count of wire fraud, one count of conspiracy to commit money laundering, and one count of money laundering. Shariff was the chief executive officer of Afrique Hospitality Group, a company used to fraudulent obtain and launder Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

• Hayat Mohamed Nur, of Eden Prairie, Minnesota, was convicted of one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud and two counts of wire fraud. Hayat Nur, the sister of Abdimajid Nur, participated in the scheme by creating and submitting fraudulent meal count sheets, attendance rosters, and invoices.

Below is video of prosecutor Joe Thompson’s statement at the press conference following the verdict this afternoon. Thompson is an excellent attorney. Among other things, he has the gift of bite and sarcasm without being the least bit grating or abrasive. I think he and his team deserve congratulations for the result in this case.

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