MINNEAPOLIS (FOX 9) - The first three defendants have pleaded guilty in the massive Feeding Our Future fraud case that is said to amount to $250 million.
Bekam Merdassa was the first to plead guilty to a single felony count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud in federal court Thursday morning. Hanna Marekegn and Hadith Ahmed also pleaded guilty on Thursday.
Bekam Merdassa guilty plea
Merdassa has two masters degrees, but is now looking at up to 30 months for bilking the government to the tune of $3 million that should have gone to feed needy kids.
Prosecutors described Merdassa as a minor participant in the scheme. In court, he admitted to setting up a bogus entity called Youth Inventors Lab to provide meals to hungry kids during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He worked with a catering company that delivered zero meals to food-insecure children. He claimed he served a total of 1.3 million meals.
In the plea deal, Merdassa admitted to pocketing $343,086 from the food program conspiracy.
The deal calls for a prison sentence of between 24-30 months. The judge will ultimately decide at a future hearing.
Hanna Marekegn guilty plea
Marekegn, 40, pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud totaling $7.1 million.
She admitted to falsely claiming to feed more than 2 million meals for needy children, saying she provided "some food" but not nearly 2 million through her Brava Cafe in Minneapolis. She also committed fraud on the vendor side, falsely claiming to provide meals to another feed site.
Marekegan, who is a naturalized citizen, agreed to forfeit her large Medina home she bought with money she gained through the fraud scheme. She also agreed to pay back $5,169,405 to the government.
In exchange for the guilty plea, Marekegn agreed to a potential prison sentence of 37-46 months. The crime comes with a five-year maximum sentence, according to federal statute. Again, the judge presiding over the case will have final say at a sentencing hearing that has yet to be scheduled.
Hadith Ahmed guilty plea
Hadith Ahmed, according to prosecutors was an employee of Feeding Our Future, responsible for monitoring and supporting sponsor sites. Authorities say Ahmed took kickback payments from several sites through Feeding Our Future, usually disguised as "consulting fees."
He also launched a shell cooperation, called Mizal Consulting, to accept the kickback payments. Prosecutors say he received more than $1 million in payments.
On top of that, prosecutors say Ahmed submitted fake invoices for reimbursements, claiming to feed 2,000 children a day at the Southwest Metro Youth in Eden Prairie. That fake venture collected another $1.1 million in fraudulent funds, prosecutors add. It was stated in court, federal prosecutors were able to claw back more than $500,000 from Ahmed through several Wells Fargo bank accounts of his. He too will be sentenced at a later date.