Fateh ethics hearing witnesses are no-shows; subpoenas coming

Chair says another troubling campaign finance issue has been discovered

By: - July 7, 2022 12:51 pm

Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, chats with a colleague during the last day of regular session on May 17. Photo courtesy of Senate Media Services.

Two witnesses were no-shows for Thursday’s Senate ethics committee hearing looking into two complaints against Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, and will now be subpoenaed.

The no-shows mean the Senate ethics panel’s investigation could continue into August, even as Fateh faces a DFL primary against education labor leader Shaun Laden. 

The Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct is looking into two issues.

First, whether Fateh inappropriately sought $500,000 in state grants for Somali TV of Minnesota — a popular YouTube channel for Minnesota’s Somali population — four months after it ran campaign ads supporting him. Somali TV President Siyad Salah told the Reformer Somali TV doesn’t endorse candidates but allows them to send in ads, which the channel runs free of charge. Somali TV is a type of nonprofit that risks losing its tax-exempt status if it engages in political activity or endorses candidates.

Salah did not appear Thursday because he is going to Canada and is scheduled to return July 19, according to committee chair Sen. David Osmek, R-Mounds.

Second, the subcommittee is looking at Fateh’s ties to his brother-in-law, Muse Mohamud Mohamed, who volunteered on his 2020 campaign and was convicted in May of lying to a federal grand jury in a ballot fraud case related to the 2020 DFL primary. Fateh beat then-state Sen. Jeff Hayden in the primary. 

The panel expected to take testimony Thursday from Fateh’s former legislative aide, Dawson Kimyon, who was Fateh’s campaign manager in 2020. After Mohamed’s conviction, DFL leadership put Kimyon on leave; he later resigned.

Osmek said he’d hoped to finish the committee’s work before August, but that’s unlikely. He scheduled another hearing for July 27 at noon, and Salah and Kimyon will be subpoenaed to appear. 

Legislative subpoenas can be enforced by a sheriff and refusing to appear is a misdemeanor.

Senate counsel Tom Bottern said the last time a Senate committee issued a subpoena was in 2005.

Bottern said Kimyon had said he would testify, but early Thursday morning, he notified the committee that he would not appear. Kimyon hasn’t authorized his attorney to accept service of a subpoena, Bottern said.

Osmek said he was disturbed. “This is a very serious process and needs to be taken seriously by everyone,” he said.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, who is one of two Democrats on the four-person committee, questioned why they need to keep pressing the issue, which led to a heated exchange with Osmek.

Osmek reminded her the panel had unanimously agreed it wanted to hear from Kimyon and Salah. He said one more hearing should ready them to decide whether to dismiss the complaints or recommend sanctions against Fateh.

“The plan is not to have this drag on, but the plan is to thoroughly investigate, which is our responsibility,” he said.

Torres Ray indicated she was inclined to trust Fateh’s version and move on, noting the country has many more important challenges right now.

Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said Fateh made statements that conflict with a sworn affidavit from Salah, so lawmakers need to talk to Salah.

“This is an ethical situation that needs to be resolved,” she said. “We are here; they are not.”

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, said having the men testify would give Fateh an opportunity to be exonerated, instead of having a cloud hanging over his head.  

During and after the hearing, Osmek raised another issue, saying Fateh’s campaign headquarters was the corporate location for Open Arms, an adult day care center at 624 E. Lake St. State law bans corporations from promoting a candidate unless through an independent expenditure. Violations are a gross misdemeanor, Osmek said. 

The Campaign Finance and Public Disclosure Board can levy a civil penalty of up to $10,000 against corporations that violate the law, and up to $20,000 and five years’ imprisonment for people who knowingly violate the law.

“That has very serious consequences,” Osmek said after the hearing. “You cannot take corporate donations… So these are serious, serious issues that we’re dealing with.”

Osmek said Fateh seems to have a pattern of campaign finance violations.

Fateh has said — and the Reformer confirmed — that before moving to Minnesota from Virginia in 2015, he worked as a campaign finance analyst at the Federal Election Commission. He has also said he worked in the Minneapolis Elections Office prior to running for the Legislature.

Fateh, Salah’s attorney, Kimyon’s attorneys and representatives of Open Arms did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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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. Before joining the staff of the Reformer in 2021 she was a contributor to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times. She and her husband have a daughter, son, and very grand child. In her spare time, she likes to play tennis, jog, garden and attempt to check out all the best restaurants in the metro area.