US: Conspirator in $250 Million Feeding Our Future Fraud Scheme Pleads Guilty
A man tied to the Feeding Our Future fraud scheme pleaded guilty Tuesday to money laundering and wire fraud, tying up one of the 47 cases that defrauded America’s hungry children of US$250 million during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Abdulkadir Awale, 50, of Bloomington, Minnesota, admitted that he stole millions of dollars from Feeding Our Future, a federal program that provided low-income families with meals for their children, in the wake of the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
The federal program was designed to provide free meals to children in need. Businesses could enroll as sponsors to ensure that the food was properly distributed and, in exchange, retain 10 to 15 percent of the federal funds as an administrative fee.
In Minnesota, however, a group of people decided that stealing from a children’s food program was a good idea.
Awale is part of an ever-growing list of conspirators exposed by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). When the story broke last September, 47 were originally charged; that number now stands at 60.
At the time, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said that the group defrauded the government by illicitly claiming reimbursements for more than 125 million fake meals between March 2020 and January 2022, in what he dubbed “the ultimate get-rich-quick scheme.”
Shell companies were also employed to further inflate their collective stake in the federal child nutrition program, with others similarly created to launder their quarter billion in ill-gotten gains.
“For a $250 million dollar fraud, the allegations make clear that the defendants worked incredibly fast, stealing money for themselves at a breakneck pace,” Luger said. He further condemned the 47 for exploiting a program designed to feed impoverished children during a time when millions of families were pushed to their limits.
Awale himself admitted that he enrolled his businesses as sponsors under Feeding Our Future and then falsely claimed to distribute 3.6 million meals worth $11.8 million to sites across Minnesota.
Authorities revealed last year that the group covered their tracks by fabricating lists of fake children who received meals at their sites each day. One conspirator, the DOJ said, was too lazy to fill out the names and instead used a website designed to create random ones.
Awale’s millions in ill-gotten gains ultimately went towards his mortgage and the purchase of several vehicles, including two big-rig trucks.
He also pleaded guilty to paying roughly $83,000 in kickbacks to a Feeding Our Future employee so that he could buy his way into the fraud scheme. As penance for his crimes, he agreed to pay restitution in the amount of $2.1 million.
His sentencing hearing is yet to be scheduled.
Investigators have so far recuperated $66.6 million of the stolen funds. Of the 60 known conspirators charged, seven have now pleaded guilty.
“Exploiting a government program intended to feed children at the time of a national crisis is the epitome of greed,” IRS Special Agent in Charge Justin Campbell said of the group last year. “Instead of feeding the future, they chose to steal from the future.”