When it was noted that the carry-on bags of multiple airline passengers traveling from Minneapolis to Somalia contained millions of dollars in cash, on a regular basis, law enforcement was naturally curious to know where the money came from and where it was going. It soon emerged that millions of taxpayer dollars, and possibly much more, had been stolen through a massive scam of Minnesota’s social-services sector, specifically through fraudulent daycare claims. To make matters worse, the money appears to have wound up in areas of Somalia controlled by al-Shabab, the Islamic jihadist group responsible for numerous terrorist outrages.
Starting in the 1990s, the State Department directed thousands of refugees from Somalia’s civil war to Minnesota, which is now home to the largest population of Somalis outside Somalia itself. As the Washington Times noted in 2015, in Minnesota, these refugees “can take advantage of some of America’s most generous welfare and charity programs.” Professor Ahmed Samatar of Macalester College in St. Paul observed, “Minnesota is exceptional in so many ways but it’s the closest thing in the United States to a true social democratic state.” A high-trust, traditionally homogenous community with a deep civil society marked by thrift, industriousness, and openness, Minnesota seemed like the ideal place to locate an indigent Somali population now estimated at 100,000.
Public discussion of the resulting contradictions has been limited, to say the least. Minnesota governor Mark Dayton has sought to stifle public discussion with tired imputations of bigotry and intolerance. Indeed, he advised native Minnesotans with qualms about immigrant resettlement to move out. “If you are that intolerant, if you are that much of a racist or a bigot, then find another state,” he said. “Find a state where the minority population is 1 percent or whatever. It’s not that in Minnesota.” Dayton also made an economic argument that did not exactly fit the case of Third World immigrants who are themselves heavy consumers of welfare benefits. “Our economy cannot expand based on white, B+, Minnesota-born citizens. We don’t have enough,” he said. A trust-fund baby himself, Dayton was engaging in a classic case of projection. It was certainly not an invitation to debate.
A September 2015 report of the House Homeland Security Committee task force on combating terrorist and foreign-fighter travel revealed that Minnesota led all states in contributing foreign fighters to ISIS. Reviewing the public cases of 58 Americans who joined or attempted to join ISIS, the task force found that 26 percent of them came from Minnesota. Somali Minnesotans occasionally appear in the headlines as “Minnesota men” who have taken up terrorist jihad. In 2015, ten such Minnesota men were charged with seeking to join ISIS in Syria; six pleaded guilty, and three were convicted in June 2016 (one is presumed dead in Syria).
Attending the trial of the three who contested the charges against them, I found that these Minnesota men gave the outward appearance of American assimilation, even though—as became apparent in the recordings introduced into evidence—they all hated the United States. They were young, educated, and bilingual. They moved into and out of the workforce at will. The FBI’s Somali informant worked on the tarmac at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, de-icing planes along with one of the convicted co-conspirators. At one time, all three of the men on trial worked at a local UPS facility in a leafy St. Paul suburb, where they enjoyed watching ISIS videos during their breaks.
I found that they were sophisticated users of social-welfare benefits. Two of four Somali-Minnesotans intercepted at JFK airport in New York en route to Syria had used federal financial-aid funds to finance their travel; one of the defendants even financed one of his planned trips to Syria with a $5,000 debit-card withdrawal on his student-loan account. The daycare case also demonstrates savvy insight into the opportunities to take advantage of the quasi-governmental American social-services apparatus. Ten daycare centers are under investigation for fraud, and dozens more are suspected. Search warrants show that each of these daycare centers has received several million dollars in child-care assistance funds. According to public records and government sources, most are owned by Somali immigrants.
The case of Fozia Ali, recently sworn in as a member of the park board of an upscale Twin Cities suburb, is illustrative. Ali’s daycare center in south Minneapolis was suspected of billing the government for more than $1 million of bogus child-care services. According to Special Agent Craig Lisher, the FBI “found records that she was collecting a significant amount of money for a much larger number of children than were actually attending the center.” Ali’s case also had an international component. “We are aware that some of the funds went overseas, what she was cashing out, money from the business,” Lisher noted. He declined to specify the purpose to which the funds were put.
Ali used a phone app to register charges to the Minnesota state government while she stayed at an $800-per-night hotel in Nairobi. She pleaded guilty in March to charges of wire fraud and is serving time in federal prison. But the scam goes well beyond Ali. Though the total loss to the state’s $248 million daycare program remains to be determined, we have a serious case of deceit, obviously. But the real damage, harder to measure, is likely to be to the high-trust values of Minnesota, where newcomers can dupe the natives so easily.