A nonprofit run by a stepbrother of state Rep. Mohamud Noor has lost its federal child nutrition funding after working with an organization that investigators are scrutinizing as part of a massive fraud probe.
Noor, a Democratic legislator representing Minneapolis, said he has had "zero connection" to his stepbrother, Mohamed Amin Ahmed, and doesn't know anything about his nonprofit, Average Mohamed. Ahmed and Average Mohamed have not been accused of any wrongdoing in the meals program.
Ahmed, who didn't return messages for comment Thursday, started the Minneapolis nonprofit in 2015 and it has been acclaimed over the years for helping Muslim youth.
State records in 2022 show Average Mohamed said in a program application that it planned to serve 1,800 meals a day in Minneapolis.
"I'm not aware of what he's doing or even if he was involved," Noor said, adding that he hasn't talked to his stepbrother in months.
Noor said the charges so far against 49 people in the scheme — the largest pandemic-related fraud in the country — are shocking. Prosecutors say many people in the scheme used taxpayer money meant to feed kids to buy luxury cars, homes and other goods.
"We have to make sure everybody is held accountable for their actions," Noor said. "We've been condemning anyone who was involved, and they should be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law."
The giant federally funded meals program reimburses nonprofits and schools for feeding low-income kids and adults after school and during the summer. The Minnesota Department of Education, which oversees the federal reimbursements, works with 2,000 meal program sponsors that partner with more than 10,000 food sites. The Education Department doled out $324 million just to non-school operators in 2021, up from $72 million in 2020, according to the Legislative Auditor's Office.
Noor said he worries that thousands of organizations doing legitimate work will face scrutiny just for their association with the meals program.
"Some of the folks have been in this program for many years before the pandemic ... and some of them are new to this process, and it makes a difference to know who's who, what was done, what was involved, and I think we'll learn more," Noor said. "I don't want it to become painting everyone with the same broad brush because there are many organizations who do a good job and I don't want them to be harmed by this whole negative information."
He's the latest local political leader — from Minneapolis elected officials to state senators — to be linked to the meals programs. Others have been tied to it through political donations or advocating for nonprofits.
Average Mohamed's meal program was sponsored by the St. Paul nonprofit Partners in Nutrition. Sponsors such as Partners in Nutrition and Feeding Our Future — the nonprofit at the center of an alleged $250 million fraud scheme — oversee the complicated paperwork and federal reimbursements to various food distribution sites.
Average Mohamed was one of 213 sites denied funding this month because the Education Department terminated Partners from the meals program. That came after FBI search warrants unsealed in January named Partners as a sponsor to some food sites that investigators alleged spent "little, if any" money on buying or providing meals to children.
No one at Partners in Nutrition, which operates as Partners in Quality Care, has been criminally charged. Partners has appealed the termination to an internal panel at the Education Department and has sought unsuccessfully so far in federal court to lift the state's restrictions, saying that it's being punished "administratively for crimes it did not commit."
In federal charges announced last month, prosecutors also allege that Partners, unnamed and referred to as "Sponsor A," had ties to the fraud through a board member and worked with food sites that fraudulently inflated the number of meals they claimed to serve.
Partners in Nutrition leaders have said they immediately cut ties with entities named in search warrants. In court documents, Partners' attorney added that the organization itself has never been accused of wrongdoing and there's no evidence it knowingly submitted a fraudulent claim.
In a July letter to Partners, the Education Department wrote that Average Mohamed and other Partners sites lacked proper paperwork and provided groceries, not prepared meals as required by federal rules.
Unlike other organizations prosecutors say sprang up during the pandemic to claim federal money, Average Mohamed started long before the pandemic and reported in tax filings that it received less than $50,000 a year in revenue. Its seven-member board includes Ramsey County Sheriff Bob Fletcher. Ahmed's work with Muslim youth, countering the recruitment of young Somali men by terrorist organizations, has been praised by politicians and community leaders.
In 2017, Ahmed received the prestigious Bush Foundation's fellowship award. And in 2020, Ahmed received a special citizen diplomacy award from the State Department.