Fateh volunteer convicted of lying to grand jury about his handling of absentee ballots

Federal prosecutors said his refusal to disclose where he got absentee ballots stymied grand jury investigation

By: - May 10, 2022 3:55 pm

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Minneapolis DFL Sen. Omar Fateh’s brother-in-law and campaign volunteer was convicted by a federal jury Tuesday of lying to a grand jury when he said he returned three absentee ballots for voters, upon their request, during the 2020 primary election.

Muse Mohamud Mohamed, 30, was charged in connection with a wider federal investigation into misuse of the absentee ballot “agent delivery” process, which is when voters with health problems or disabilities can have someone deliver their ballot to an election office. 

Fateh’s Senate DFL colleagues called on him to address the matter, given his close relationship with a man now convicted of perjury in a case involving a federal voter fraud investigation.

“The (Senate DFL caucus) stands for transparency and fair elections without exception,” said Senate DFL Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen and other leaders, in a statement to the Reformer. “We look forward to Sen. Fateh addressing this matter firsthand for the sake of his constituents and the public at large.”

Fateh, a first-term senator from a south Minneapolis district, then released a statement Tuesday saying Mohamed is his brother-in-law, and that his campaign has always been committed to upholding election laws and processes.

“I am troubled by this conviction. I am more committed than ever to organizing and governing to strengthen a fair and free democracy,” Fateh said.

Fateh explained his previous silence on the case, despite weeks of inquiries from the Reformer: “I believe Muse deserved a fair trial, free from any pressure that my comments could have created.”

What the grand jury was looking for

An FBI agent testified Tuesday that a grand jury subpoenaed Mohamed last fall because it was trying to determine where he got absentee ballots that he returned for voters without their knowledge. 

Two of those voters testified that they never authorized Mohamed to deliver absentee ballots for them. And a friend of Mohamed’s, Mustafa Hassan, testified that when he volunteered for the campaign on Election Day, he was told to deliver three envelopes to the Minneapolis elections office for people he didn’t know, unwittingly in violation of the law. 

The grand jury has spent more than a year investigating whether absentee ballots were being turned in without voters’ knowledge in the August 2020 primary election, hearing from “probably 80 witnesses,” FBI special agent Blake Hostetter testified Tuesday. He is assigned to civil rights and public corruption in Minneapolis. 

It’s not clear whether the grand jury’s work is done, and federal prosecutors declined to comment. 

Mohamed was convicted of two counts of lying to the grand jury, which prosecutors said made it difficult for their investigation to proceed.

“Simply put, he didn’t want to tell the grand jury where he got those ballots, so he lied,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Kimberly Svendsen told the jury during closing arguments.

Mohamed’s attorney, Charles Clippert, told the Reformer he got the impression the grand jury had finished its work, but he didn’t know if any other charges have or will come of it.

Hostetter said federal investigators were trying to determine who was filling out and directing people picking up and delivering absentee ballots. 

Grand jury testimony 

Although Mohamed opted not to testify during his trial, jurors on Tuesday saw portions of a transcript of his previous grand jury testimony.

The transcript showed Mohamed told the grand jury last fall he was a volunteer for Fateh, who unseated a DFL incumbent by nearly 2,000 votes in the August 2020 primary.

Mohamed told the grand jury some volunteers would drive voters to polling stations. Others would knock on doors and pick up envelopes with absentee ballots and take them to the elections center for people who asked them to. 

The grand jury subpoenaed Mohamed in September and October — the second time to give him an opportunity to “set the record straight” and tell the truth, according to Svendsen.

When told the three voters did not ask Mohamed to return ballots for them, Mohamed said they may not have known him since he did hundreds of door knocks. It’s illegal to act as an agent for someone who doesn’t know you.

Prosecutors and grand jury members tried to get Mohamed to say where he got the three absentee ballots at issue, but instead he repeatedly explained how the agent delivery process works.

According to the partial grand jury transcript shown at the trial this week, a prosecutor asked Mohamed if someone from the Fateh campaign gave him the ballots. But Mohamed stuck to his contention that the voters gave them to him, even though the voters said otherwise. 

Mohamed did mention at one point to the grand jury that someone named Dawson told him where to pick up ballots, in a likely reference to Fateh’s campaign manager, Dawson Kimyon. Kimyon has not responded to past requests for comment on the case, and wasn’t immediately available for comment.

One of the jurors on the grand jury noted that Mohamed appeared nervous because he was shaking and sweating, but Mohamed said that was because he had a hernia. 

Mohamed told the grand jury he comes from an affluent, law-abiding family. The juror asked if he’s the kind of person with a clean record who could have been taken advantage of, and he replied: “It’s possible.”

Another juror on the grand jury asked if the Fateh campaign was afraid of losing, and Mohamed said no. Mohamed told the grand jury that he was a college student at that point, and wasn’t really involved in the campaign, although he’d knocked on thousands of doors for Fateh.

Mohamed denied to the grand jury that he was paid to be an absentee ballot delivery agent for the Fateh campaign. He was asked during the grand jury investigation if he used a cash app, but it wasn’t clear why since the entire transcript wasn’t shown during the trial this week, and portions were redacted. 

The jury was composed of 10 women and two men; all but one appeared to be white. Mohamed will be sentenced after a pre-sentence report; he remains free on bond. He faces a maximum of five years in prison for each count, according to FindLaw.com.

Senate DFL calls on Fateh to ‘address the matter’

Fateh is not the only prominent political figure with familial ties to Mohamed. Zaynab Mohamed — the DFL-endorsed candidate running for the Senate in the heavily Democratic District 63 — is his sister, but has said she wasn’t a subject of the investigation. She was a full-time volunteer for Fateh during his 2020 campaign.

Zaynab Mohamed released a statement late Tuesday saying she loves this country, loves her brother, and believes the right to cast a vote in free and unfettered elections must be protected. She said the case has been an ordeal for her family.

“The jury’s decision was hard to hear, and I appreciate that they made the best decision they could with the evidence and defense presented. I also recognize justice is not always served equally, and I will continue to advocate for a system that truly reflects the promise of equal justice under the law,” Zaynab Mohamed wrote.

This story was updated at 8:25 a.m. Wednesday to include additional reporting. 

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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.