Ellison sues to shut down 23 nonprofits accused of child meal fraud

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison wants to dissolve almost two dozen nonprofit organizations accused of engaging in a scheme to defraud millions of federal funds meant to feed school children.

In a news release Wednesday, Ellison’s office announced it had filed civil complaints against 23 nonprofits that purported to be serving thousands of meals to children in need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

An investigation by the Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office revealed these organizations were either established or reactivated close to the beginning of the pandemic to take advantage of the Federal Child Nutrition Program; however, none appeared to have “legitimate nonprofit activities on site.”

These nonprofits are accused of misusing bank records, giving fake or abandoned addresses, failing to comply with reporting requirements and not cooperating with Ellison’s investigation, the release states.

“Nonprofits are supposed to benefit the public — not defraud it,” Ellison said in a statement. “Most nonprofits work hard and do good work to help the people of Minnesota — but not these sham organizations. I am seeking to permanently shut down these sham nonprofits so they can’t be revived to defraud the public again.”

Ellison filed lawsuits against the following organizations for alleged violations of Minnesota nonprofit law:

  • Academy for Youth Excellence
  • Advanced Youth Athletic Development
  • African Chamber of Commerce Education
  • Bet On Better Future
  • Community Enhancement Services Inc.
  • Gedo Community Services
  • Hobyo Health Care Foundation
  • Hope Academy for Youth & Women Empowerment
  • Minnesota African Chamber of Commerce
  • Minnesota’s Somali Community
  • Multiple Community Services, MCS
  • Optimum Community Services
  • Serving Younger Generation
  • Somali American Faribault Education
  • South West Metro Youth
  • Stigma-Free International
  • The Free Minded Institute
  • United Enrichment with Heart
  • Unity Social Service
  • Urban Advantage Services
  • Xogmaal Media Group and Xogmaal Services
  • Youth Higher Educational Achievement
  • Youth Inventor’s Lab

All but two of these organizations — The Free Minded Institute and Urban Advantage Services — were linked to Feeding Our Future, a Minneapolis nonprofit that allegedly orchestrated a scheme to defraud $250 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program reimbursements through its sponsored meal sites. Federal prosecutors have charged at least 60 co-conspirators in what they have called the largest COVID-related fraud scheme in the country.

The lawsuits are filed across several counties, but Ellison is seeking to have them consolidated in Hennepin County, where 16 of the 23 complaints were filed.