First arrest occurs in Feeding Our Future food scam

(The Center Square) – Federal authorities nabbed a man allegedly trying to flee the country after helping steal millions of dollars meant for child hunger programs.

Court documents say Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49, tried to flee the country after authorities revoked his passport in January after authorities raided more than 24 properties and seized more than $6 million from a business he co-founded named Empire Cuisine.

Ismail was arrested last week while boarding a flight. He flew from Rochester to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, where he was scheduled to fly to Nairobi, Kenya, after a stop in Amsterdam.

He’s charged with one count of passport fraud after he lied to the Department of State in a March 2022 passport application, saying he lost his passport in an attempt to flee the country.

The arrest warrant says Ismail purchased a round-trip flight to Nairobi, scheduled to leave on April 20 with a return flight booked for May 19.

From May 2020 through January 2022, federal authorities say three businesses – ThinkTechAct Foundation, Empire Cuisine & Market and Empire Enterprises – collaborated to steal and launder at least $30 million of Federal Child Nutrition Program (FCNP) money meant to feed hungry children. Instead, court documents say, much of that amount was spent on luxury properties and vehicles.

Court documents say Feeding Our Future, (FOF) a St. Antony-based fake nonprofit, reported $42.7 million in meals disbursed in 2020 and by 2021, boosted that number to $197 million. The nonprofit would contract with the three above businesses as food vendors appearing to feed hungry children, but in reality, would shift the money via shell companies.

Empire Cuisine & Market received $12 million of FCNP funds.

ThinkTechAct claimed to be providing meals to about 160,666 children per day at 10 locations in June 2021. In all, FCNP funds composed more than 99% of total funds deposited into the company’s account.

Court documents say Ismail and another person wired $2 million to bank accounts in China and Kenya.

Here are the 14 properties allegedly purchased with federal taxpayer money. Court records accuse Ismail and a partner of using that money to buy:

$1.5 million to build a custom home on Prior Lake.$1 million to buy two lots on Prior Lake.$1 million to buy commercial real estate in Louisville Kentucky.$575,000 for a single-family home in Savage.$335,000 for a townhouse in Burnsville.$79,000 for a 2021 Jeep Wrangler Unlimited.A 2021 Porsche Macan.A $65,000 2021 GMC Sierra pickup.A $47,000 2021 Nissan Murano.An $80,000 2022 Tesla Model Y.

It’s unclear how many other people will be arrested. Taxpayers were duped out of tens of millions because of lax fraud precautions enacted during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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