Crime, Law and Justice

Man connected to food fraud investigation held for false passport statements

A man alleged to be among the targets of an investigation into child nutrition program fraud in Minnesota is facing a federal charge of making a false statement on his passport application, according to a court document filed Thursday.

The criminal complaint signed by Minnesota U.S. District Judge Hildy Bowbeer says Mohamed Jama Ismail was on his way out of the country when he was apprehended at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

The complaint says Ismail is being investigated as part of an operation “to fraudulently obtain and misappropriate millions of dollars in federal child nutrition program funds.”

The companies, ThinkTechAct Foundation, Empire Cuisine and Market LLC and Empire Enterprises LLC, based in Shakopee and Savage, were alleged to have obtained unusually high reimbursements and are suspected of redirecting and laundering around $30 million from May 2020 to January 2022. Federal agents say they found Ismail controlled or owned part of some of the firms and wired more than $418,708 to concerns in Kenya and China.

Ismail’s home in Savage was one of the properties seized in a civil forfeiture move in January by the federal government.

Federal investigators also seized Ismail’s passport. When he applied for a new one in March, he said that he had a U.S. passport but it was “lost” and “at home,” according to the complaint. Ismail also allegedly said he reported the passport stolen, but the Savage Police Department had no record of it, agents said.

Ismail tried to use the new passport to fly to Amsterdam on Wednesday, but was arrested on the jetway as he attempted to board the plane at MSP.

In search warrant affidavits unsealed in January, the FBI alleged that a network of people connected to the Twin Cities nonprofit Feeding Our Future took advantage of looser rules during the pandemic and used a web of shell companies to launder and misappropriate tens of millions of dollars.

They allegedly spent it on vehicles, travel and real estate, including commercial buildings on Lake Street in Minneapolis and a luxury apartment in Nairobi, Kenya.

The executive director of Feeding Our Future, Aimee Bock, has denied that the nonprofit, now dissolved, did anything wrong.

No one has been charged in the Feeding Our Future case.