Defendant in Feeding Our Future Fraud Case Takes the Stand: Eyewitnesses Detail Distribution of Food

During his testimony, which kicked off around 4:15 p.m., Mukhtar detailed his life in a Kenyan refugee camp as a kid, coming to the United States with his family, and moving around often as a child. He shared about his experience selling President Barack Obama T-shirts in high school and working as a software engineer at Microsoft before launching his own software consulting firm in 2018.

“I’ve always wanted to be an entrepreneur,” Mukhtar stated. “I’ve been doing it since high school on the side.”

The court adjourned before Mukhtar could be interrogated about allegations concerning federal Child Nutrition Program funds. His testimony is set to resume Thursday at 9 a.m.

Mukhtar’s legal team presented evidence and called nine witnesses on Wednesday to support their claim that he ran a lawful business feeding needy children utilizing federal funds.

Afrique Hospitality Group, Mukhtar’s former company, bought over $1.5 million in food from a wholesaler in 2021 and early 2022, as shown by invoices presented Wednesday.

On the first day of defense testimony, witnesses from a Bloomington mosque and worshipers testified that they saw food being distributed at the mosque and a school to counter prosecutors’ claims that Afrique Hospitality Group fraudulently obtained federal Child Nutrition Program money.

Mukhtar is one of seven defendants facing a total of 41 criminal charges, including wire fraud, bribery, and money laundering, accused of stealing $41 million from the government.

Mukthar is the only defendant calling witnesses; attorneys for the other six defendants declared they would rest their cases post Mukhtar’s attorneys concluding their defense.

Afrique was the ‘biggest’ food client

Derek Czapiewski, a sales accountant at Sysco, testified at how Afrique was a significant buyer compared to others for food vendors working with the Child Nutrition Program.

Throughout the trial, prosecutors argued that the defendants only served 10 percent of the meals they were reimbursed for.

The case is part of an investigation into the alleged theft of $250 million from the Child Nutrition Program, dubbed the Feeding Our Future case, with 70 defendants charged, 18 pleading guilty.

Mosque leaders witnessed food distribution

Imam Abdirahman Kariye and Khalid Omar at Dar Al Farooq testified that they observed food being distributed at the mosque during the pandemic, refuting allegations.

They noted receiving food and distributing it to families at the mosque. Other mosque members testified similarly.

Business insight from experts

Professor Paul Vaaler testified about business practices in the East African community in the U.S., explaining that refugees become entrepreneurs due to unfamiliarity with American culture and employers’ lack of understanding of their qualifications.

Yusuf Ali testified about his involvement with Zawadi, an East African event center in Bloomington, after Mukhtar’s project with Afrique stalled.
He invested $500,000 and transformed it into a restaurant, cafe, coworking space, and event venue.

The currently indicted defendants are facing various charges, and their trials are ongoing.

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