Bernie Sanders’ Iowa political director went on to work for Feeding Our Future

Abshir Omar worked for a nonprofit that ran food distribution sites  

By: - October 6, 2022 7:00 am

Abshir Omar and Feeding Our Future Executive Director Aimee Bock talk to a KSTP reporter outside the Minnesota Department of Education office in Roseville, where they were part of a June 2021 protest to pressure the state to applications for food distribution sites. Bock said nonprofits such as Tasho, where Omar was deputy director, could feed more children if MDE would approve their application. KSTP Screenshot

A former key aide to Bernie Sanders’ Iowa presidential campaign went on to work as a consultant for Feeding Our Future, a nonprofit that federal prosecutors say was at the center of the nation’s biggest pandemic relief program fraud. 

Abshir Omar was also deputy director of a nonprofit named Tasho that ran six food distribution sites — sponsored by Feeding Our Future — which reported serving 4,000 meals per day. He and the nonprofit have not been charged with any crimes. Reached by phone, Omar said he didn’t have time to talk, and hung up.

Sanders made Omar his Iowa political director after Omar ran for the Des Moines City Council in 2017. At the time, Sanders tweeted, “I’m proud to have Abshir Omar on our team fighting for a political revolution.”

So far, the U.S. Department of Justice has indicted about 50 people with bilking a federal child nutrition program out of nearly $250 million in Minnesota. Instead of providing 125 million meals, they instead bought luxury cars, houses, jewelry, and coastal resort property abroad, prosecutors said. 

Omar, whose involvement in Feeding Our Future hasn’t been previously reported, joins other prominent political operatives with ties to the scandal. A former senior policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and former chair of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority — appointed by Frey and the City Council — were indicted.

During the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Agriculture waived some of its requirements in order to quickly get free food to hungry children. Sponsoring organizations such as Feeding Our Future were responsible for passing federal money to the food sites and monitoring them for compliance. 

Prosecutors say Feeding Our Future employees recruited people to open food sites and then falsely claimed to serve meals to thousands of children per day, within just days or weeks of forming. 

In exchange, Feeding Our Future fraudulently received more than $18 million in administrative fees, the DOJ alleges. They say Feeding Our Future opened more than 250 sites statewide and fraudulently disbursed more than $240 million.

The federal investigation became public in January, when the FBI raided homes and seized property to try to stop the hemorrhaging of federal money. At the time, WCCO went to Feeding Our Future’s headquarters in St. Anthony seeking comment, where Omar told them he was a consultant for the nonprofit.

Omar also participated in a June 2021 demonstration outside the Minnesota Department of Education office in Roseville, where dozens of people protested the department’s foot-dragging in approving applications for still more food distribution sites. 

“Feed my kids!” they chanted outside the building.

Feeding Our Future Executive Director Aimee Bock told KSTP they were protesting because the state wasn’t approving applications of many of Feeding Our Future’s “community partners.” 

As an example, she cited Tasho, a nonprofit she said was helping 1,600 children a week. She said double the number could be helped if only MDE would approve their application for the pandemic program.

Omar, described in the story as deputy director of Tasho, is shown leading chants outside MDE.

“We are very limited in our capacity,” he told the TV station. “The need is far greater than what we can do today.”  

Tasho is listed on an MDE spreadsheet of distribution sites in the program. The spreadsheet indicates Tasho had six feeding sites and served 4,000 kids per day by late 2021, under the oversight of Feeding Our Future.

Federal prosecutors say Bock oversaw the massive scheme carried out by meal sites that were sponsored by Feeding Our Future, receiving 10 to 15% administrative fee in exchange. 

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said during a Sept. 20 press conference to announce the indictments that they are the “first set of charges.” 

Omar wrote in a blog that he fled Somalia in the 1990s during the civil war that claimed the lives of his father, brother, brother-in-law and other family members. He wrote that he attended Iowa State University, and got involved in politics in 2016, when Donald Trump threatened a “Muslim ban.” That inspired him to make an unsuccessful run for the Des Moines City Council, where he was the city’s first Somali, Muslim refugee candidate.

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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.