This story comes to you from Sahan Journal, a nonprofit newsroom dedicated to providing authentic news reporting about Minnesota's new immigrants and refugees. MPR News is a partner with Sahan Journal and will be sharing stories between SahanJournal.com and MPRNews.org.
FBI agents arrested a Minnesota man Wednesday afternoon as he allegedly attempted to flee the country while under a federal investigation for stealing millions of dollars from a federal child nutrition program.
Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49, is currently in custody at Sherburne County Jail following his initial appearance Thursday in a federal court. The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Ismail and apprehended him on Wednesday at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, alleging that he’d lied in a March 2022 application for a new passport.
He was charged with one count of passport fraud. Ismail’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, did not immediately respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment Thursday evening.
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Ismail’s arrest marks the first arrest of a person associated with what has become known as the Feeding Our Future investigation.
The FBI has targeted Ismail since the investigation began in May 2021. His house was one of 15 properties the FBI raided on January 20, 2022, when the FBI investigation first became public. During that raid, FBI agents seized Ismail’s passport, bank checks, a Movado watch, a screen projector, an iPhone 13 Max Pro, a Maxim Defense AR pistol, and a Daniel Defense rifle, among other items.
The arrest warrant alleges that Ismail went on to lie in an application for a replacement passport and then attempted to leave the country. On Wednesday morning, he successfully flew from Rochester to Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. Two hours later, Ismail attempted to board his next flight to Amsterdam. He’d scheduled his final destination as Nairobi.
FBI agents arrested Ismail on the jetway, as he was walking with a backpack and a suitcase to board his flight to Amsterdam. The arrest warrant adds that Ismail had checked five additional bags for his trip to Kenya.
The arrest warrant states that Ismail purchased a round-trip flight to Nairobi on April 4. The return flight was booked for May 19.
During the raid of his home on January 20, Ismail told FBI agents that his wife and five children have lived in Nairobi, Kenya since 2018, according to court documents. He allegedly told FBI agents that his wife splits her time between Minnesota and Kenya. The arrest warrant, however, alleges this is untrue and that his wife hasn’t been in the U.S. since 2018.
He also told agents that he owns two homes, including a rental property, and co-owns a textile company based in Africa, court documents say.
Ismail allegedly co-founded Empire Cuisine & Market, a restaurant operation that contracted as a food vendor with Feeding Our Future. Ismail and a business partner allegedly received millions of dollars of federal Child Nutrition money, and wired $2 million of it to bank accounts in China and Kenya, according to the arrest warrant.
FBI agents seized more than $6 million from Empire Cuisine in January. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is attempting to seize Ismail’s Savage home, among other properties.
On March 22, two months after FBI agents seized his passport, Ismail applied for a new passport with the Minneapolis Passport Agency, the warrant says. In his application, Ismail allegedly wrote that he’d lost his passport at home. He also checked a box indicating that he filed a police report about his missing passport. The arrest warrant for Ismail says the police department in his hometown of Savage refuted Ismail’s account.