Crime, Law and Justice

Feds charge 2 Minneapolis consultants in $1M COVID-19 fraud

The facade of a U.S. courthouse
The Diana E. Murphy U.S. District Courthouse in Minneapolis is pictured on April 22.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

A grand jury has indicted two Minneapolis business consultants on charges of defrauding government pandemic aid programs out of more than a million dollars.

In an indictment unsealed Tuesday, the U.S Attorney’s Office in Minneapolis alleges that Tezzaree El-Amin Champion drafted and submitted falsified documents to the Paycheck Protection and Economic Injury Disaster Loan programs after entering into contracts with Hennepin County. Also named in the indictment is Champion’s business partner Marcus Alexander Hamilton.

During a brief hearing before Magistrate Judge Tony Leung on Tuesday afternoon, Champion pleaded not guilty. Hamilton did not enter a plea, but Leung set a May 24 arraignment date and approved the appointment of public defenders for both men.

According to court documents, Champion and Hamilton, both 27, used their company, Futuristic Management Group, to fraudulently submit applications for PPP loans and other pandemic relief on behalf of their clients as well as entities that they created.

In one instance, Champion allegedly worked with an unnamed man in the spring of 2020 to set up a business called Chaos Boxing. Even though the company did not exist before the pandemic, investigators say that the man sought and received an EIDL loan of more than $100,000 after Champion submitted a falsified program application.

In the indictment, prosecutors also allege that the purported owner of the gym siphoned $25,000 in small business relief grants from Hennepin County after Champion submitted a fake 2019 tax document for Chaos Boxing.

The man allegedly paid Champion more than $125,000 of the $130,000 that the government deposited into the gym’s account. In addition, investigators say that Champion received another $20,000 from the county’s Elevate Hennepin program after falsely claiming to have provided Chaos with free graphic design and website assistance.

The indictment lists two other businesses, Braid Designs and Knowledge Is Power, for which Champion is accused of submitting fraudulent grant and loan applications.

Champion also allegedly scammed the federal agency that would later prosecute him.

In a 121-page search warrant application unsealed along with the indictment, U.S. Postal Inspector Christine Kroells writes that Champion received more than $234,000 in Justice Department grants through a nonprofit called Encouraging Leaders after submitting a proposal to participate in the DOJ’s Opioid Affected Youth Initiative.

In his grant proposal, Champion allegedly declared that Encouraging Leaders began substance abuse prevention and intervention efforts in 2015, but business records from the Minnesota Secretary of State’s Office show that the nonprofit was not registered until 2020.

Seven letters of support that Champion is alleged to have submitted along with the application do not include contact information for the organizations they represent, and were riddled with typos, Kroells writes.

Both Champion and Hamilton face charges of fraud and theft of government money. Champion also faces a count of being a felon in possession of a firearm after federal agents allegedly found a Ruger revolver during a search of his Andover home, along with $126,000 in cash.

Champion is ineligible to possess guns because of a felony conviction for shooting and wounding a one-time friend during a dispute over a vehicle purchase in 2017.

Champion is the great-nephew of Minnesota Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, and the son of Minneapolis North basketball star Khalid El-Amin, who went on to play for the University of Connecticut and the Chicago Bulls. Neither man is named anywhere in court documents related to the case.

A spokesperson for Hennepin County said in a statement that staff contacted authorities “[as] soon as the county detected suspicious activity,” and are cooperating with investigators and the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

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