At least 10 Minnesota day-care centers – most owned by Somali immigrants – are under investigation by state lawmakers following a report linking the businesses to millions of taxpayer dollars flown out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to terrorist-controlled countries in the Middle East and Africa.
The report by Fox-affiliate KMSP documented an estimated $100 million in cash in 2017 alone, all declared as required by law, transported in carry-on luggage by “hawalas” through the airport. Hawalas are couriers who physically carry cash from the United States to foreign countries where there is no formal banking system or other effective way to transmit money. They are commonly used by Minnesota’s large Somali-immigrant community to remit money to family members living in Somalia.
The day-care centers, according to the report, are in many cases, sham operations, billing the government for all-day childcare that never happens. Video footage outside one of the centers showed a mother taking children in and leaving with them minutes later. Another video appears to show a mother receiving a payoff for participating in the fraud, reported the Washington Free Beacon.
Investigators believe the operations are more than just shams to steal taxpayer dollars – they’re likely fronts for terrorist fundraising.
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“I talked to a couple of sources who had lived in that region and I said, ‘If money is going to this hawala do you think it is going to al-Shabaab?'” said Glen Kerns, a retired Seattle Police detective and former member of the FBI’s joint terrorism task force. “And he said, ‘Oh definitely, that area is controlled by al-Shabaab, and they control the hawala there.'”
Considering the large amount of money passing through the airport, investigators believe al Shabaab, an al-Qaida-affiliated terror group, is collecting millions of dollars from both the illicit fundraising and a cut from the money legitimately remitted to families.
“I say absolutely, our sources tells us that,” said Kerns. “Good sources – from the (Somali) community leaders.”
This is not the first time Minnesota day-care centers have been involved with fraudulent billing schemes. Previously, the stolen funds were sent out of the U.S. electronically. But a crackdown by authorities largely shut that down, so the cash must be physically transported. As long as the money is declared when leaving the U.S., it is legal to carry suitcases full of cash on flights to foreign countries.
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KMSP’s report drew the praise of Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton, who called the day-care scams “disgraceful,” and noted there was an effort to increase the number of inspectors to identify and stop welfare fraud.
“It’s something we have been aware of and working against, but there is a lot more that needs to be done,” he told KMSP.