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A Minnesota man tied to a high-profile federal fraud investigation was arrested this week after he allegedly attempted to leave the country with a fraudulently obtained passport. 

Authorities arrested Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49, at the airport Wednesday after he boarded an Amsterdam-bound flight with plans to travel to Nairobi, Kenya. 

According to charges, Ismail illegally obtained a new passport in March after his was seized by federal authorities in January. 

He is charged with one count of passport fraud for allegedly making false statements in claiming his passport had been "lost" in order to obtain a new one. 

The newly filed criminal complaint also details Ismail's alleged involvement in a massive scheme to launder millions in government funds disbursed through the federal child nutrition program. 

News of the alleged scheme broke in January, when the FBI raided the offices and homes of individuals connected to Feeding Our Future, a since-dissolved non-profit that had collected hundreds of millions of dollars through the Federal Child Nutrition Program. 

Federal authorities allege a web of co-conspirators used the federal program to launder money intended to feed hungry children during the pandemic. 

No charges have been filed in connection with the investigation. 

According to investigators, Ismail's business entities received more than $30 million in federal funds. And while he's not been indicted in connection with the alleged scheme, his arrest marks the first arrest of someone associated with the case. 

The accusations 

According to the new charges, Ismail became a target of the federal fraud investigation when several companies in Scott County were noticed for receiving "suspiciously high" reimbursements under the Federal Child Nutrition Program. 

The three companies — ThinkTechAct Foundation, Empire Cuisine & Market and Empire Enterprises — appeared to be working together to fraudulently obtain and launder federal funds. 

From May 2020 to January 2022, the companies received over $30 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program Funds, charges state. 

ThinkTechAct, for example, received over $21 million, which represented over 99% of all funds deposited into the company's bank account. 

Around $12 million of these funds were transferred to Empire Cuisine & Market, a small storefront restaurant and market in Shakopee founded by Ismail in April 2020. 

Memo lines on the check indicate the payments were to purchase food or meals to be served as part of the federal program. 

During the same time period, Empire Cuisine & Market also received funds totaling over $12 million from Feeding Our Future and another business entity. 

Ismail and his co-conspirator used "little of this money" to provide food or serve meals, according to charges. 

Instead, funds were sent to an array of individuals involved in the alleged scheme through transactions involving shell companies. 

Authorities allege Ismail received approximately $2.21 million in federal funds, or roughly a fourth of the dollars paid out to the owners of the companies involved. 

His co-conspirator, identified by the initials A.F., allegedly used the laundered money to purchase real estate in Scott County and elsewhere. 

These purchases included a $575,000 home in Savage, land worth $1 million in Prior Lake and a custom-built Prior Lake home worth $1.5 million. A $335,000 townhome in Burnsville, $1 million commercial property in Louisville, Kentucky and five new vehicles, including a Tesla and Porsche, were also purchased. 

Ismail and A.F. are also accused of $2 million dollars worth of wire transfers to China and Kenya. 

On January 20, federal investigators raided Ismail's home in Savage and seized over $6 million from his accounts and related entities. In an interview with investigators during the raid, Ismail said his wife and children lived in Nairobi. Ismail then provided agents with the combination for a safe inside the residence, where agents located and seized his U.S. passport. 

A few days later, Ismail's home in Savage and more than a dozen other properties were subject to civil forfeiture, according to court documents. 

The U.S. Attorney's Office then informed Ismail's attorney that Ismail would likely be indicted for his role in the fraud scheme. Less than two months later, Ismail applied for a new passport. 

Authorities allege he lied on his passport application when he stated his passport was "lost at home." He also falsely claimed he'd filed a police report regarding the matter. 

On March 22, the U.S. Department of State issued Ismail a new passport. In early April, charges allege, he booked a flight to Nairobi, Kenya. Ismail was arrested on Wednesday by FBI agents on the jetway after boarding his flight to Amsterdam. 

He's currently being held in the Sherburne County Jail following his first appearance in federal court Thursday. 

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