Minneapolis man on trial for lying to grand jury has connections to senator, candidate

The case is part of a larger federal investigation into absentee ballots in the 2020 primary

By: - May 6, 2022 6:00 am

Photos courtesy of Omar Fateh for MN Senate and Zaynab Mohamed for Senate.

A Minneapolis man goes on trial Monday, accused of lying to a federal grand jury about how he handled absentee ballots during the August 2020 primary election.

Muse Mohamud Mohamed has shared an address with members of a newly prominent political network, including the wife of a state senator and another DFL-endorsed state Senate candidate who is likely to win her election this fall if she becomes the nominee. 

The south Minneapolis address listed on Muse Mohamed’s current voter registration matches that listed on traffic tickets and March 2021 business registration documents for Kaltum Mohamed. She is married to state Sen. Omar Fateh. The couple now lives elsewhere in the district Fateh represents, District 62. 

The same address is listed on the current voter registration of Zaynab Mohamed, the DFL-endorsed candidate running for the Senate in the heavily Democratic District 63. 

The single family home is owned by Mohamud Mohamed Nur, according to Hennepin County records. Zaynab Mohamed’s campaign finance report shows she received five donations from people who listed the same address. 

It’s unclear whether everyone living in the home is related.

Fateh and Zaynab Mohamed did not reply to repeated requests for comment over the course of weeks. 

Federal prosecutors’ trial brief says the charges against Muse Mohamed stem from the state Senate primary election in August 2020. The trial exhibit list includes a map of Senate District 62, where Fateh scored an upset victory running as a democratic-socialist, promising to upend business-as-usual at the state Capitol, defeating DFL state Sen. Jeff Hayden. 

Tasha Zerna, public affairs officer for the Minnesota District of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, declined to say whose campaign those absentee ballots benefited.

The case revolves around what’s called “agent delivery” of absentee votes and is part of a wider federal investigation, according to the government’s court filing. 

Under state law, voters with incapacitating health problems or disabilities can have someone deliver their absentee ballot to the election office. Each person can deliver absentee ballots for three voters per election. Election offices track the ballots and who delivered them. 

Minneapolis elections office records show Muse Mohamed delivered three ballots during the August primary, according to the trial brief. 

The three voters, however, do not know Mohamed and did not ask him to pick up and deliver absentee ballots for them,” prosecutors wrote in the brief.

One of the ballots Muse Mohamed attempted to return to the city was rejected because the voter had voted in person at her polling place, the brief says.

Muse Mohamed is charged with two counts of falsely testifying to a grand jury that he got absentee ballots from the election office, took them to voters to fill out and returned them to the election office. The feds allege he didn’t take any ballots to the voters named on the absentee ballot envelopes. 

While appearing before the grand jury on Oct. 14, Muse Mohamed was asked “dozens of times” how and from whom he obtained the absentee ballots for the three voters, prosecutors say.

“Many of Mohamed’s answers to the questions were simply non-responsive,” prosecutors wrote. “He gave long and detailed explanations for the process and procedures by which a non-specific voter could obtain an absentee ballot.”

Muse Mohamed said he received the three absentee ballots from the voters, but when told the voters each gave statements that they don’t know him and didn’t ask anyone to deliver their ballots, he stood by his answer, the trial brief says. 

Reached by phone, Muse Mohamed’s attorney, Charles Clippert, said he didn’t have time to talk about the case. Muse Mohamed could not be reached for comment.

Prosecutors say on Sept. 30, Muse Mohamed also lied to the grand jury when he said he went to voters’ homes “either because he was sent there by a campaign or because he spontaneously found voters who happened to need assistance” delivering their ballots. 

Prosecutors said Muse Mohamed was given a second chance to return to the grand jury on Oct. 14 and “correct his false testimony, but chose not to do so.” Prosecutors said Muse Mohamed was a “witness” to three additional absentee ballots submitted to election officials, according to court documents. 

Muse Mohamed was arrested on Nov. 22 by the FBI and released later that day. He pleaded not guilty two days later.

Federal prosecutors convinced the judge to bar the defense from talking about their opinions of the FBI’s treatment of the Somali community, or allegations that the underlying investigation targeted the Somali community, saying it’s not relevant or reliable.

The defense had sought to call one witness on the subject: The executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, Jaylani Hussein. Hussein did not reply to interview requests. Zaynab Mohamed is community advocacy manager for CAIR-MN. 

Last year, Fateh led an effort opposing Andrew Luger’s appointment as U.S. attorney for Minnesota, saying in a letter to fellow lawmakers that he was concerned about Luger’s past involvement in a program that sought to counter violent extremism. Fateh called the effort Islamophobic. The program, Fateh charged, “vilifies young Muslims and subjects them to overreaching surveillance and entrapment by the national security state.” 

When he was previously U.S. attorney for Minnesota during the Obama administration, Luger prosecuted nine men who planned to travel to Syria to join the Islamic State group. He championed the Countering Violent Extremism program, which aimed to intervene with Somali youth susceptible to extremism. Critics said it targeted Muslim youth. 

Luger has since been confirmed as U.S. attorney, and his signature is now at the bottom of filings in Muse Mohamed’s case.

After prosecutors moved to bar Hussein of CAIR from testifying about law enforcement interactions with the Somali and Muslim communities, Muse Mohamed’s attorney responded in a court filing that he needs Hussein’s testimony to show the conflict between federal agents and the Somali community.

Fateh defeated Hayden by 1,969 votes. Hayden previously questioned the residency of delegates who voted in the DFL Senate district convention, before losing to Fateh in the primary. Hayden said in a Reformer interview that he “kinda moved on” after the election. He’s currently a lobbyist. 

He’s interested in knowing more, Hayden said, “If it comes out that they basically stole an election from me.” 

This story was updated to reflect the presiding judge’s ruling.

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Deena Winter
Deena Winter

Deena Winter has covered local and state government in four states over the past three decades, with stints at the Bismarck Tribune in North Dakota, as a correspondent for the Denver Post, city hall reporter in Lincoln, Nebraska, and regional editor for Southwest News in the western Minneapolis suburbs.