Judges approve nine Feeding Our Future defendants’ requests to travel outside Minnesota


Federal judges have approved at least nine defendants’ requests to travel outside Minnesota in the sprawling Feeding Our Future meals fraud cases.

It’s a common condition that criminal defendants aren’t allowed to leave the state and have to surrender their passport in order to be released from custody. But in the fraud case, at least nine of the 60 people charged or indicted have gotten permission to leave the state or country, though it doesn’t appear that any of the nine has fled as a result.

“It’s unusual when they’re charged with serious felonies like this to allow them to go out of the state, let alone out of the country,” said Joseph Daly, emeritus professor of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “They’ve convinced the judges that they will return.”

Prosecutors have said the scheme was one of the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in the country, involving more than $250 million. So far, 16 people have pleaded guilty and one defendant died before her case was resolved. The first trials are scheduled for early 2024.

Many defendants are African immigrants, so the international travel requests cite family, religious or businesses abroad.

Jordan Kushner, who represents one defendant who requested to go overseas, said it’s not surprising or unusual that there have been so many travel requests given that most of the cases involve immigrants. Plus, he said, most have no prior criminal history and are facing allegations they played smaller roles in the scheme. They aren’t accused of violent crimes.

“These cases have also gone on a long time,” he said. “I think the travel requests mostly started coming after it was clear the cases wouldn’t be resolved within a year. … It’s not unusual and it’s certainly not out of line for the judges to grant these requests.”

Some federal judges wouldn’t sign off on requests to leave the country due to the risk a defendant might flee, Daly said, but the judges on these cases are experienced and must have reason to believe they’ll return.

“It’s a judgment call,” he added.

While authorities were investigating, some other targets in the sprawling case traveled or tried to travel overseas.

No new charges have been filed since last March. As of then, the federal government had seized more than $66 million in the case.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture funds the meals program, reimbursing nonprofits and schools for providing meals to low-income children outside of school or during the summer. Many new food sites tied to the nonprofit Feeding Our Future,emerged during the pandemic when oversight rules were loosened.

Prosecutors said little to no meals were served to children in need, and instead many defendants submitted attendance rosters with fake names and pocketed the money to buy new cars or luxury homes. They said the scheme also involved a tangled web of bribes and kickbacks, with defendants creating shell companies to launder the money.

Travel requests approved

On Dec. 8, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel approved Yusuf Bashir Ali’s request to leave Minnesota Dec. 10 and return Jan. 31, to visit an uncle in Kenya with terminal lung cancer. He pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and could face 21 to 27 months in prison.

His attorney, Kevin Riach wrote in court documents that he has no reason to flee because he has a wife and four children in Minnesota and has attended all his court hearings. Federal prosecutors didn’t take a position on the request, but probation officers voiced concerns about the length of the trip.

Other travel requests:

Bekam Addissu Merdassa: Brasel granted Merdassa permission to travel at the end of 2022 to London to visit family, returning in January. In March, Brasel allowed him to temporarily move to Ethiopia before sentencing. Merdassa, who has pleaded guilty, cited his inability to get a job in Minnesota as he awaits sentencing. He could face 24 to 30 months in prison.

Ahmed Abdullahi Ghedi: In March, U.S. District Judge Tony Leung approved Ghedi’s request to move to Texas before his trial. Ghedi argued in court documents that, as a Somali-American, he needed to move out of state because he’s been spurned and isolated by Minnesota’s close-knit Somali community due to the allegations, unwelcome at his own mosque and unable to get a job.

Khadar Adan: In July, Leung approved Adan’s request to travel to Turkey, Kenya and Ethiopia, where he owns properties, returning in mid-August. Leung also approved Adan’s request to travel to those countries in September and October for business. Prosecutors didn’t oppose either request. His attorney, William Mauzy, said Adan has returned to Minnesota.

Qamar Ahmed Hassan: Leung granted Hassan permission to travel to Chicago to visit her aunt last April. Then Brasel approved Hassan’s request to travel for three days to Seattle in September for a wedding. She returned to Minnesota, her attorney, Beth Forsythe, said. Prosecutors didn’t object to either request. Hassan pleaded guilty in August and could face 41 to 63 months in prison.

Sahra Mohamed Nur: Brasel approved Nur’s request in September to travel to Saudi Arabia and Somalia in October and November. Nur, 63, who pleaded guilty to charges and faces a possible sentence of 51 to 63 months in prison, said she wanted to visit her family and complete a pilgrimage to Mecca. Prosecutors didn’t oppose the request. Her attorney A.L. Brown declined to comment when asked if she has returned to Minnesota.

Asad Mohamed Abshir: In July, Leung approved Abshir’s request to travel to Turkey in September to visit his wife and children, returning in early October. Prosecutors didn’t oppose it. His attorney, Doug Olson, said Abshir returned to Minnesota, but no trial date has been set yet.

Liban Alishire: Brasel approved Alishire’s request to travel to Kenya this month to sell properties he owns to meet $700,000 in restitution he owes. Prosecutors opposed it, saying there weren’t conditions to ensure he would return for sentencing. Brasel approved 30 days of travel, not the 60-day trip Alishire sought. Brasel also approved his travel requests to visit California and Washington earlier this year. Alishire, who pleaded guilty to charges, could face 41 to 51 months in prison.

Ahmed Yasin Ali: In November, Brasel approved Ali’s request to travel to Somalia and India between Nov. 29 and Jan. 29 to help his brother, who lives in Somalia and was diagnosed with cancer, receive chemotherapy in India. Prosecutors opposed the request. Kushner, Ali’s attorney, said in court documents that Ali has lived in the U.S. since 1996 and has no reason to flee before his March trial and shouldn’t be treated differently than other defendants who had their travel requests approved.

Not all travel requests have been approved. In March, Leung denied Ayan Abukar’s request to travel to Kenya to visit her grandmother and husband, and in September he denied Sharmarke Issa’s request to travel abroad.

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