Judges approve requests by nine defendants to travel outside Minnesota

Federal judges have approved requests by at least nine defendants to travel outside of Minnesota in the growing Feeding Our Future food fraud cases.

It is a common condition that criminal defendants are not allowed to leave the state and must surrender their passports to be released from custody. But in the fraud case, at least nine of the 60 people accused or charged were given permission to leave the state or the country, although it does not appear that any of the nine fled as a result.

“It’s unusual when they’re charged with serious crimes like this that they’re allowed to leave the state, let alone out of the country,” said Joseph Daly, professor emeritus of law at Mitchell Hamline School of Law. “They have convinced the judges that they will be back.

Prosecutors said the scheme was one of the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in the country, involving more than $250 million. So far, 16 people have pleaded guilty and one defendant died before her case was resolved. The first trials are scheduled for early 2024.

Many defendants are African immigrants, so applications for international travel cite family, religious or business overseas.

Jordan Kushner, who represents one defendant who has asked to go abroad, said it is not surprising or unusual that there are so many travel requests, given that most of the cases involve immigrants. Plus, he said, most have no prior criminal record and face allegations that they played smaller roles in the scheme. They have not been charged with serious crimes.

“These cases also go on for a long time,” he said. “I think the travel requests started coming in mostly after it became clear that the cases weren’t going to be decided within a year. . . . It’s not unusual and certainly not out of the ordinary for judges to grant these requests.”

Some federal judges would not sign pleas to leave the country because of the risk the accused would flee, Daley said, but the judges in these cases are experienced and must have reason to believe they will return.

“It’s a verdict,” he added.

While authorities investigated, some other targets in the growing case traveled or attempted to travel abroad.

No new charges have been filed since last March. By then, the federal government had seized more than $66 million in the case.

The USDA funds the meal program by reimbursing nonprofits and schools to provide meals to low-income children outside of school or during the summer. Many new food sites linked to the nonprofit organization Feeding Our Future have sprung up during the pandemic as oversight rules have been loosened.

Prosecutors said little or no food was served to children in need, and instead many defendants filed attendance records under false names and pocketed the money to buy new cars or luxury homes. They said the scheme also involved an intricate web of bribes and kickbacks, with the accused setting up shell companies to launder the money.

Approved travel requests

On Dec. 8, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brassell approved Yusuf Bashir Ali’s request to leave Minnesota on Dec. 10 and return on Jan. 31 to visit an uncle in Kenya with terminal lung cancer. He pleaded guilty in September to wire fraud and could face 21 to 27 months in prison.

His attorney, Kevin Riach, wrote in court documents that he has no reason to flee because he has a wife and four children in Minnesota and has attended all court hearings. Federal prosecutors did not comment on the request, but probation officials raised concerns about the length of the trip.

Other travel requests:

Bekam Adisu Merdasa: Brassel gave permission for Merdasa to travel at the end of 2022 to London to visit his family, returning in January. In March, Brassel allowed him to temporarily move to Ethiopia before handing down the sentence. Merdasa, who pleaded guilty, cited his inability to find work in Minnesota while awaiting sentencing. He could receive 24 to 30 months in prison.

Ahmed Abdullahi Gedi: In March, U.S. District Judge Tony Lung approved Geddy’s request to move to Texas ahead of his trial. Geddy claims in court documents that as a Somali-American, he had to move out of state because he was rejected and isolated from Minnesota’s tight-knit Somali community because of the allegations, unwelcome at his own mosque and unable to find work.

Hadar Adan: In July, Leung approved Adan’s request to travel to Turkey, Kenya and Ethiopia, where he owns property, returning in mid-August. Leung also approved Adan’s request to travel to those countries in September and October on business. Prosecutors did not oppose either request. His attorney, William Mausey, said Adan has returned to Minnesota.

Qamar Ahmed Hasan: Leung allowed Hassan to travel to Chicago to visit his aunt last April. Brassell then approved Hassan’s request to travel to Seattle for three days in September for a wedding. She returned to Minnesota, her attorney, Beth Forsythe, said. Prosecutors did not object to either request. Hassan pleaded guilty in August and faces 41 to 63 months in prison.

Sahra Mohamed Noor: Brassel approved Noor’s request in September to travel to Saudi Arabia and Somalia in October and November. Noor, 63, who pleaded guilty to the charges and faces a possible sentence of 51 to 63 months in prison, said she wanted to visit her family and make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Prosecutors did not oppose the request. Her attorney, AL Brown, declined to comment when asked if she had returned to Minnesota.

Asad Mohammed Abshir: In July, Leung approved Abshire’s request to travel to Turkey in September to visit his wife and children, returning in early October. Prosecutors did not object. His attorney, Doug Olson, said Abshire has returned to Minnesota, but a trial date has not yet been set.

Lebanon Alishir: Brassell approved Alishir’s request to travel to Kenya this month to sell properties he owns to pay off $700,000 in restitution he owes. Prosecutors objected, saying there were no conditions to ensure he would return for sentencing. Brassel approved a 30-day trip, not the 60-day trip Alishire wanted. Brassel also approved his requests to travel to California and Washington earlier this year. Alishir, who pleaded guilty to the charges, could face 41 to 51 months in prison.

Ahmed Yasin Ali: In November, Brassell approved Ali’s request to travel to Somalia and India between Nov. 29 and Jan. 29 to help his brother, who lives in Somalia and has been diagnosed with cancer, receive chemotherapy in India. Prosecutors opposed the request. Kushner, Ali’s lawyer, said in court documents that Ali has lived in the U.S. since 1996 and has no reason to flee before his March trial and should not be treated differently from other defendants whose travel requests have been approved.

Not all travel requests are approved. In March, Leung denied Ayan Abukar’s request to travel to Kenya to visit his grandmother and her husband, and in September denied Sharmarke Issa’s request to travel abroad.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *