Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman's wife founded a nonprofit that reported feeding thousands of needy children through a federal nutrition program now under scrutiny for alleged fraud.
According to state filings, Osman's wife, Ilo Amba, incorporated Urban Advantage Services in November 2020. In Minnesota Department of Education documents the nonprofit is among 213 sites sponsored by Partners in Nutrition — a St. Paul-based organization that was one of the top sponsors of the federal meals program in Minnesota.
Another top sponsor, Feeding Our Future, is at the center of what prosecutors say was a $250 million fraud scheme, with the first charges rolling out in the past month.
Amba has not been charged or accused of fraud. Messages left with Osman and his office were not returned Monday or Tuesday.
The Minnesota Reformer first reported the news of Amba's connection to Partners in Nutrition.
According to Education Department records this year, Urban Advantage Services said in its site application that it would prepare 2,000 meals a day at a downtown Minneapolis office building and 2,500 meals a day there in 2021.
According to the department, which oversees the federal funding distributed to the state for these after-school meal programs, the nonprofit received a total of $461,533 in federal reimbursements in 2020 and 2021.
Osman and Amba were listed among four people who in 2019 incorporated Stigma-Free International Inc., an organization that has been accused of misappropriating millions of dollars through the federal program. Osman told the Star Tribune in March that he "gave up" his role in the nonprofit in 2020, before Stigma-Free became active in the meals program, and had never heard of Feeding Our Future.
Ahmed Artan, Stigma-Free's president, was charged with wire fraud and other charges in September and pleaded not guilty.
The Education Department suspended funding to Partners in Nutrition in January after the FBI unsealed search warrants about the fraud probe involving Feeding Our Future and its network of food distribution sites. While Feeding Our Future was at the center of the documents, investigators named Partners in Nutrition as distributing money to three subcontractors that they said spent little to no money on food for children.
Partners in Nutrition, which operates under the name Partners in Quality Care, accused the Education Department in a September lawsuit of illegally forcing it to suspend operations.
In indictments announced later last month, federal prosecutors said an organization dubbed "Sponsor A" operated as a small nonprofit before the COVID-19 pandemic and then dramatically increased the number of food sites it sponsored in 2020. The prosecutors said "Sponsor A" claimed to distribute more than 80 million meals in 2021 and had received more than $200 million in 2021 in federal reimbursements for providing the meals, up from $5.6 million in federal funds in 2019.
Prosecutors allege most of "Sponsor A" sites fraudulently inflated their claims to appear that they were feeding more children than was true.
In response to the lawsuit Partners filed against the state, the Education Department wrote in court documents that "Sponsor A" is Partners in Nutrition. The department said Partners, like Feeding Our Future, "funneled millions of dollars to fraudulent site operators and vendors. The stolen federal food aid was laundered through a series of shell companies and used to buy real estate, vehicles, vacations and other luxury items."
The Education Department said in court documents that Partners was directly responsible for distributing more than $57 million.
No one at Partners in Nutrition, which started sponsoring meal programs in 2016, has been criminally charged. Aimee Bock, the now-indicted leader of Feeding Our Future, worked at Partners before starting her own organization.
In court documents filed in Partners' lawsuit against the Education Department, the department lists Urban Advantage Services among 213 meal sites that Partners in Nutrition sponsored. After terminating Partners from participating in the federal meals program in May, the Education Department notified gave notice to Partners in June that it would deny funding to 213 sites when the after-school meal program started this month.
In July, the department notified Partners that earlier meal claims were denied funding for various reasons such as insufficient paperwork. Urban Advantage Services, the department wrote, had delivered groceries, not meals, as required by the federal rules.
The Minnesota Reformer reported that an office manager for a law firm in the same office building as Urban Advantage Services saw people packaging and loading trucks with food, but never saw children come to the building for food.