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Attorney General Ellison secures dismissal of nonprofit officials over misuse of funds

March 29, 2024 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced today that his office has reached a settlement with Action for East African People (AFEAP), a Bloomington-based nonprofit, that has resulted in the dismissal of its founder and former executive director Ayan Abukar, as well as her daughter and AFEAP’s former treasurer and secretary, Deqo Siraj, over allegations Abukar and Siraj diverted millions of dollars in charitable assets for improper uses, including self-dealing and other personal, not charitable, uses. AFEAP has also agreed that Abukar and Siraj will not work again with AFEAP in any capacity. Prior to today’s settlement, AFEAP removed Abukar and Siraj’s access to AFEAP’s financial accounts.

This settlement with the nonprofit organization does not release the Attorney General’s monetary or other claims against any individual person, including Abukar, who is currently facing criminal prosecution for conduct related to the settlement.

In the settlement, an Assurance of Discontinuance filed in Hennepin County, AFEAP further agrees to:

• fully comply with civil investigative demands sent by the Attorney General’s Office, which will help facilitate the Office’s ongoing investigation into the alleged financial mismanagement by AFEAP’s former leaders;

• rectify multiple governance failures on the part of the board of directors by obtaining training for board members about their duties under state law;

• immediately perform a full accounting of AFEAP’s assets, and consider taking action to recover unapproved, improper expenditures and misused funds;

• obtain new legal counsel with no personal or professional connections to Abukar;

• and file all required documents with the Attorney General’s Office and IRS.

AFEAP operates Action Care Community Clinic in Bloomington, a dental clinic that serves low-income patients and others in need, including those from the Somali community and other uninsured and underinsured immigrant communities. The Assurance also requires AFEAP to assess how best to separate Abukar from physical assets that Abukar claims to own that are necessary for running the clinic.

In March 2023, a federal grand jury indicted Abukar on charges of bribery, money laundering, conspiracy to commit bribery, and conspiracy to commit wire fraud related to her alleged theft of millions of dollars in federal child-nutrition funds. Shortly after the indictment, the Charities Division of the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) launched an independent civil investigation of AFEAP under Minnesota’s civil nonprofit corporation, charitable solicitation, and charitable trust laws. AFEAP did not cooperate with the AGO’s investigation, failing over several months to answer a civil investigative demand for information.

Through other means, the AGO determined that AFEAP funds were paid to Abukar, for her benefit, or to companies she headed (at least $450,000); to Abukar’s daughter Deqo Siraj or companies she headed (at least $287,000); and to other Abukar family members or companies they headed (at least $894,000). The AGO also alleged that AFEAP’s board failed to properly oversee Abukar and allowed her to remain in control of the organization despite her misuse of funds, even after her federal criminal indictment. The organization also failed to register with the AGO as generally required of nonprofit and charitable soliciting organizations and charitable trusts.

“The work that Action for East African People does by operating a dental clinic for uninsured and underinsured people is very important,” Attorney General Ellison said. “The settlement we negotiated protects the important work of the dental clinic while immediately separating AFEAP from the bad actors that took advantage of their organization and the community it is supposed to serve. The settlement also furthers our ongoing investigation into the improper use of AFEAP’s charitable assets, which they hold in trust for all the people of Minnesota.”

The Charities Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has civil enforcement authority under the state’s nonprofit corporation, charitable-solicitation, and charitable-trust laws. The Charities Division does not enforce criminal laws. Under Minnesota law, nonprofit board members and executives owe fiduciary duties to act in the best interests of the charities that they serve, including putting the interests of the nonprofit above any personal financial interests. Information about these fiduciary duties, and other resources to help nonprofit leaders properly serve their organizations, are on the AGO’s website at http://www.ag.state.mn.us/Charity/InfoNonProfits.asp

The public may submit complaints to the Attorney General about nonprofit directors and officers who put their own interests before the charity’s interests. Complaints may be submitted by using a form on the Attorney General’s website. Minnesotans may also contact the Attorney General’s Office by calling (651) 296-3353 (Metro area), (800) 657-3787 (Greater Minnesota), or (800) 627-3529 (Minnesota Relay).

 

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