Thousands of meals apparently served in a barricaded suburban park. Reams of documents showing the same names of kids receiving meals day after day. A nonprofit insider first tipping off the FBI.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys began to unveil new details this week in the first Feeding Our Future-related trial in which authorities allege a sprawling fraud scheme in the federal child nutrition program. Jurors got a first glimpse of how millions of dollars flowed through the St. Anthony nonprofit Feeding Our Future and related organizations in what prosecutors say is one of the largest pandemic-related fraud schemes in the country.

Defense attorneys, though, struck back at the allegations, saying defendants followed complex federal rules and served real food. As they tried to cast doubt on the FBI's investigation, they blamed Feeding Our Future and other nonprofits managing the program for poor oversight.

The high-profile trial is the first one since the FBI raided Feeding Our Future more than two years ago, leading to charges and indictments of 70 people in what has been described as a scheme totaling more than $250 million. Prosecutors allege defendants exploited program changes during the COVID-19 pandemic to pocket millions of dollars meant to feed children in need.

This month's trial involves seven defendants — Said Shafii Farah, Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur — who have been charged with wire fraud, money laundering and other crimes. They all have ties to a Shakopee restaurant called Empire Cuisine & Market, which received $40 million in U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) funds meant to reimburse nonprofits, schools and day cares for feeding low-income kids after school and during the summer.

Federal prosecutors said only about 10% of the more than 18 million meals the defendants claimed to serve were actually distributed and the rest of the money was used for such things as $80,000 Porsches, a luxury Maldives vacation and a custom 8,000-square-foot Prior Lake home, as well as bribes and kickbacks to others.

With the testimony of witnesses, prosecutors spent hours this week combing through attendance rosters to show the jury how the same kids supposedly picked up meals day after day, and showed stacks of invoices that quickly escalated from hundreds of meals served each day to thousands. They relayed how organizations newly created during the pandemic soon matched some of the state's largest school districts in the amount of reimbursements. And they displayed maps of food sites, from Owatonna to Circle Pines, some having popped up in close proximity to one another and one at a park closed for construction.

"Do you think they're real?" Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson asked FBI special agent Jared Kary, the second witness to be called, while holding up a thick binder of thousands of pages of meal count forms.

"I do not," the agent responded, adding that his colleagues will testify about how the funds were used for personal expenses.

But defense attorneys blasted both FBI investigators and state officials for never visiting food sites to verify if meals were actually served to kids in need. They said FBI agents didn't search all the defendants' homes or e-mails, where they potentially would've found evidence to disprove the allegations.

Attorney Steve Schleicher questioned Kary about FBI agents not interviewing employees at his client Said Farah's food vendor warehouse and not surveilling sites — from Marshall, Willmar and St. Cloud to Rochester and Faribault — before executing search warrants.

"People were there getting food, that's a possibility, true?" Schleicher asked Kary, who responded that he wouldn't agree. Schleicher said that's just speculation, adding: "You don't know if you're not there to lay your eyes on it."

Schleicher added that the FBI continued to interview witnesses last month, relying on people's recollections from more than two years ago.

Defense attorneys have said they'll call their own witnesses and show photos of meals being distributed. They've cited the hundreds of USDA waivers that relaxed rules to get more food to kids during the pandemic when schools closed, including allowing take-home meals or bundles of multiple meals to be distributed.

For instance, a parent could pick up seven days of meals at once for her six children, which would be 42 meals at a time, said Edward Sapone, who represents Abdimajid Nur, who worked as a food site supervisor and is Hayat Nur's brother. Sapone added that food sites used a clicker to tick off attendees, not needing to confirm names.

"You didn't count the meals?" Sapone asked Kary, who confirmed FBI agents didn't go to meal sites to verify the number of meals served.

Defense attorneys have pointed out that Feeding Our Future and another St. Paul nonprofit, Partners in Nutrition, were "sponsors," meaning they oversaw on-site monitoring and paperwork. Other defense attorneys have sought to distance their clients from the allegations altogether, pointing out there are few e-mails or invoices tied directly to them.

In their opening statements, defense attorneys said their clients are East African refugees who escaped war-torn Somalia and worked hard in Minnesota, getting a fair return as for-profit businesses, which were allowed to participate in the meal programs during the pandemic.

FBI tipster was former business partner

In new details this week, Kary also testified that it wasn't the Minnesota Department of Education, which administers the program in Minnesota, that tipped off the FBI about the possible fraud, but rather a former business partner of Feeding Our Future leader Aimee Bock.

Under questioning from defense attorney Andrew Birrell, who represents Abdiaziz Farah, Kary said an FBI tip line received a report from Christine Twait, who had incorporated Feeding Our Future in 2016 with Bock while the women worked at Partners in Nutrition, which they also started. Partners in Nutrition was entangled in lawsuits with the Education Department, so Twait told the Star Tribune in 2022 that they started Feeding Our Future as a backup if they couldn't win their legal battles.

Twait later left Partners. After Bock was fired in 2018, she left to lead Feeding Our Future.

Bock, who has pleaded not guilty, has denied any wrongdoing and argued that the federal investigation was retribution for suing the Education Department in 2020 over stopped payments. No one associated with Partners has been criminally charged.

In February 2021, Twait submitted allegations about Bock to the FBI, Kary said, not specifying what was said. He said agents contacted the USDA and conducted some interviews. Birrell accused Kary of leaving the jury with the impression that the Education Department was the first to report concerns. Kary said the FBI didn't officially open an investigation until two Education Department employees, Emily Honer, a nutrition program supervisor, and her supervisor, Monica Herrera, reported their concerns in April 2021.

"We can't just open a case on a hunch," Kary said.

On Jan. 20, 2022, dozens of FBI agents executed search warrants at 26 locations, publicly revealing the massive investigation. Kary testified that FBI agents spent months surveilling individuals and monitoring places with cameras.

Honer testified about the red flags the Education Department saw in the programs. Kary said she told him she was discouraged by supervisors in 2021 from continuing to look into her concerns because of Feeding Our Future's 2020 lawsuit, which was ongoing. Honer said the lawsuit was "very nasty," accusing the department of being racist, targeting nonprofits that worked with immigrants and people of color.

A judge in that case told the department he saw no regulations giving the state authority to stop paying Feeding Our Future. The agency restarted payments to Feeding Our Future, and Horner and her supervisor went to the FBI instead.

A third witness, Bill Menozzi, the director of finance and operations at Shakopee Public Schools, testified Friday about how the suburban school district ran its meal programs during the pandemic. His testimony continues Monday and the trial could stretch into June.