Five convicted in $250 million COVID relief scheme

TOP DOJ 013123 AP Patrick Semansky

Five Minnesota residents were convicted on Friday in a $250 million COVID relief scheme where they misused funds designated to help feed kids during the pandemic. 

The jury acquitted two others over their involvement in a $40 million scheme to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program. 

After three days of deliberating, the jury found five defendants, Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, 35, Mohamed Jama Ismail, 51, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, 23, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, 33, and Hayat Mohamed Nur, 27, guilty of most crimes related to the scheme, according to a Friday Justice Department (DOJ) news release. 

“I am extraordinarily proud of the prosecution team and our law enforcement partners who have spent years investigating this highly complex and widespread fraud scheme,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. “With today’s convictions, a total of 23 individuals have been held accountable for their roles in this egregious conspiracy to steal millions of taxpayer dollars.”

Two defendants, Said Shafii Farah and Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, were acquitted of all charges according to NBC News. 

The convicted defendants misappropriated and laundered millions of the program’s funds that were intended as reimbursements for the price of getting meals to kids during the pandemic. They provided false documents and “exploited” changes in the food program. 

While the defendants claimed they still fed kids, they provided “fraudulent” meal count sheets and false invoices, and utilized fake attendance rosters. 

Officials said that 70 defendants have been charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota, across 14 indictments and six criminal informations. They said 18 people have pleaded guilty. 

“This investigation is not over, and today’s verdict highlights the fact that a large-scale fraud of this scope and nature will not be ignored, and those who engage in fraud schemes like this will not evade justice,” said Jason Bushey, Special Agent in the IRS Criminal Investigation Chicago office.

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