A Plymouth woman whom prosecutors called "a serial fraudster" pleaded guilty Friday to her roles in Minnesota's massive federal nutrition program scandal and an earlier Medicaid fraud case, stealing a reported total of more than $9.5 million.

Anab Artan Awad, 52, admitted that she fabricated paperwork for feeding children in Osseo, Faribault and Minneapolis to defraud the federal government of millions of dollars. She acknowledged inflating meal counts and serving only a fraction of the 3.8 million meals she claimed to have provided to children during the pandemic.

Awad is the fifth person to plead guilty since charges in the fraud scheme were announced in September. So far, 50 people have been charged in what prosecutors say is the largest pandemic-related fraud case in the nation, involving more than $250 million in federal taxpayer dollars — most of which they say defendants spent on luxury houses, new cars and other goods rather than food for needy kids.

Prosecutors say Awad conspired to defraud the government even while awaiting a trial scheduled to start next week, in the separate health care fraud case. Awad pleaded guilty Friday in that case to defrauding Medicaid in 2014-17, working as an interpreter for mental health services for which she billed more than $95,000 despite never providing that help, according to court documents.

She could be sentenced to prison for up to five years and three months, prosecutors said.

Awad, who has been jailed in Sherburne County since Sept. 20, wore a neon green sweat suit and gray hijab in court Friday, dabbing her eyes with tissues before her attorneys requested a brief recess to talk to her. More than a dozen family members and supporters packed courtroom for the 90-minute hearing, some of them hugging and crying outside afterward.

Awad's attorneys, Joseph Dixon III and Jason Steck, declined to comment. Two people identified as members of her family also declined to talk to reporters.

Awad pleaded not guilty in September after a grand jury indicted her on charges in the meals case. She is the second defendant charged via the indictments to change their plea.

Several times in court Friday, Awad asked prosecutors and U.S. District Judge Eric Tostrud to repeat their questions through a Somali interpreter. She told Tostrud that she is a U.S. citizen and has a high school degree, but doesn't read English and had her daughter translate the indictment and plea agreement for her while in jail. She said she doesn't have a criminal record.

Asked by Tostrud how she felt, she said she felt depressed, and started to cry.

Under the plea agreement, Awad will pay restitution of $9.3 million in the meals case and more than $99,000 in the Medicaid case. She also will forfeit a pickup truck and property in Rosemount that she bought with the money.

The federal government has seized $50 million in property tied to the case, including 60 bank accounts, 45 parcels of real property, 14 vehicles, jewelry and other items.

Pandemic meals for kids

The meals programs are funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It distributes the money to the Minnesota Department of Education to reimburse schools, nonprofits and community organizations for providing snacks and meals to kids in need after school or during the summer.

Prosecutors accused Awad of operating a scheme with four others to receive more than $25 million by taking advantage of oversight measures loosened during the pandemic — including the lifting of in-person food site monitoring — to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

With a plan to distribute meals beginning in 2021, Awad restarted a defunct business she had opened in 2016 called Multiple Community Services. The organization received more than $11 million in federal money, but according to prosecutors, most of it was deposited into her bank accounts.

At one Minneapolis site in early 2021, Awad claimed to serve 12,600 meals a day to children. But Friday, she admitted that only a fraction of those meals were served. In Faribault, she claimed to serve more than 2,000 kids, but none of the names on attendance rosters matched students enrolled in the city's schools.

Prosecutors said she submitted fake invoices for buying food from Fahad Nur, 38, of Minneapolis, who ran a vending company called The Produce LLC but actually provided no food. She also claimed to receive food from Haji Salad, 32, of St. Anthony, who ran Haji's Kitchen.

Salad has pleaded not guilty. Nur also was charged but fled the United States about a week after FBI agents executed search warrants in January.

Awad was sponsored by a St. Paul nonprofit called Partners in Nutrition, which handled paperwork and submitted reimbursement claims.

Partners in Nutrition and Feeding Our Future were among the largest sponsors of local federal nutrition programs during the pandemic. Aimee Bock, who prosecutors say was the scheme's leader, was the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future and had previously worked for Partners in Nutrition. She has pleaded not guilty.

Partners in Nutrition, which operates as Partners in Quality Care, hasn't been named in indictments. and no one associated with the St. Paul nonprofit has been criminally charged. In the indictment, prosecutors wrote that an unnamed "Sponsor A," which the state Education Department has identified in court documents as Partners in Nutrition, grew dramatically during the pandemic, receiving more than $179 million in federal money in 2021, up from $5.6 million in 2019.

Prosecutors say most of Partners in Nutrition's sites fraudulently inflated their meal claims to receive millions of dollars from the federal government.

In court documents, Partners in Nutrition's attorney said the organization has never been accused of wrongdoing and there's no evidence it knowingly submitted a fraudulent claim.

Unlike some of the defendants in the food fraud case, Awad has been jailed since September. Prosecutors called her a flight risk because she had violated release conditions in the health care fraud case.

"Ms. Awad's track record demonstrates that she will defraud for her own financial gain and that she has no compunction about committing new crimes, no matter what conditions might be imposed upon her by a court," prosecutors wrote. "Ms. Awad is a serial fraudster, as her record makes glaringly obvious."


$250M reportedly stolen in federal aid
50 people charged
5 people pleaded guilty so far