Jamal Osman poses for a portrait outside of Riverside Plaza in April 2021. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal file

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A nonprofit organization that federal investigators allege participated in food-aid fraud was previously incorporated and directed by Minneapolis City Council Member Jamal Osman, according to registration documents filed with the state.

In a search warrant affidavit unsealed on January 21 in the U.S. District Court for Minnesota, FBI investigators named Stigma-Free International Inc. as one of the nonprofit organizations that allegedly misused millions of dollars in federal nutrition funds. Those funds first passed through Feeding Our Future, a St. Anthony-based nonprofit. 

Jamal is not named in any of the public search warrants related to the investigation. 

According to business filings with the Minnesota Secretary of State, Jamal incorporated Stigma-Free International Inc. in August 2019 along with three others. 

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Jamal told Sahan Journal he was involved with Stigma-Free until June 2020 and performed mental health outreach through the group. He said he then cut ties with the nonprofit, but he did not clarify how he transferred leadership.

“While I operated and was associated with Stigma-Free we never worked in delivering food or meals,” Jamal said in a written statement to Sahan Journal. “We had no association with Feeding Our Future and received no monies from them while I was with the non-profit.”

The alleged fraud committed by Stigma-Free International occurred in 2021, according to the search warrant. Prior to that time, the nonprofit made a relatively unusual move of filing new paperwork, which listed a new set of people as incorporators.

Stigma-Free International is one of many nonprofits and companies entangled with Feeding Our Future.

“The people associated with this claim have been accused of stealing money that was to feed hungry kids,” Jamal told Sahan Journal in a statement. “As someone who has known hunger that is uniquely appalling to me. I hope that if proven guilty the people who have committed this crime will be held responsible.”    

No arrests or criminal charges have been filed in the investigation.

In May 2021, Sahan Journal reported that the Minnesota Department of Education stopped federal payments to Feeding Our Future and rejected new applications the nonprofit made to receive federal food aid.

In the wake of that legal showdown last June, Jamal attended a public event with Feeding Our Future. A video of the event, reviewed by Sahan Journal, shows him sitting at a table alongside the executive director of Feeding Our Future, Aimee Bock. Other political figures, like State Senator Omar Fateh, also attended the event. 

“I spoke in support of feeding kids, our Somali, Latino, and Native children not ever going hungry,” Jamal said in a statement. “I attended this event with the interests of young people in my community in mind, and in response to reports at the time of the funding being shut down.”

At the event, Jamal said he wrote a resolution criticizing the Minnesota Department of Education for rejecting federal food aid applications through Feeding Our Future.

Sahan Journal requested registration paperwork from the state about the founding of Stigma-Free International and Jamal Osman’s connection to it. In October 2020, just three months before the period described in federal search warrants, Stigma-Free International refiled its papers to show new names of the “incorporators” who were present at the time of its founding.

Sahan Journal also called many of the leaders listed for Stigma-Free to ask who was in charge of the group during the period described in the federal search warrant. At press time, no one currently involved with Stigma-Free has responded to questions about the organization and the allegations surrounding it. 

Allegations against Stigma-Free start with federal investigation of Feeding Our Future

On Thursday, the FBI raided the offices of Feeding Our Future, which received federal funds designated for feeding disadvantaged children and adults. In 2018, the nonprofit received $300,000 in federal funds. By 2021, that amount had ballooned to a total of $244 million—nearly a quarter of a billion dollars.

The raid followed an eight-month investigation, which shows Feeding Our Future and several of its contractors allegedly used federal funds on personal expenditures like cars, trips, and real estate. 

The Minnesota Department of Education, which administers the federal funding to Feeding Our Future, reported information to the FBI which prompted the investigation. Authorities say three Feeding Our Future employees committed the fraud, including executive director Aimee Bock.

Bock, Feeding Our Future, and its attorneys did not respond to Sahan Journal’s phone calls, emails, and text messages seeking comment. 

Stigma-Free International worked with Safari Restaurant in alleged food-aid fraud 

According to the search warrant, Stigma-Free’s alleged involvement in the food aid fraud is tied to Safari Restaurant and Event Center, which is alleged to be a major player in the scheme. The south Minneapolis business is a popular East African restaurant and events venue. 

Safari applied to the Federal Child Nutrition Program in April 2020. But the Minnesota Department of Education rejected the application, citing a United States Department of Agriculture policy to avoid creating new after-school meal programs at sites that hadn’t previously provided those services.

Bock, on behalf of Feeding Our Future, objected to the decision, according to the search warrant. She wrote that the site was already providing meals with the expectation it would be reimbursed. The state subsequently approved the application. 

By July 2020, Safari claimed to be feeding 5,000 children a day. The numbers kept growing, and in fall 2020, the Minnesota Department of Education became suspicious. One employee noted that Safari claimed to be providing more meals than the St. Paul Public School District, according to the warrant. 

In October 2020, according to the search warrant, the state terminated Safari’s participation in federal nutrition funding. Feeding our Future sued the state, arguing it wasn’t processing site applications properly, and money kept flowing to Safari to provide meals while the legal process played out. 

The company received more than $15 million in federal nutrition funding between May 2020 and November 2021. Investigators allege in a warrant that little of this money went to feeding kids, but instead enriched firms controlled by Safari owners and associates. 

One of these companies was Stigma-Free International.

Stigma-Free International received $6.5 million, claims to have provided thousands of meals in Wilmar and Mankato

While Stigma-Free is a nonprofit organization that the search warrant says claims to feed kids, the actual mission of the organization is unclear. Nonprofits, by law, file a Form 990 with the IRS annually. The filing lists the organization’s mission, lead employees and their salaries, revenue, expenses, and more. 

No Form 990 appears for Stigma-Free in IRS records for tax-exempt organizations. This makes it difficult to describe the nonprofit’s finances, spending, or basic operations.

Stigma-Free received $6.5 million in federal nutrition funding in 2021, but investigators say in a search warrant that none of that money went to feeding kids. Instead, Stigma-Free International funneled the money back to companies controlled by Safari associates, according to the warrant. 

Those dollars allegedly helped pay for a $2.8 million office in a south Minneapolis mansion, a $950,000 home in Plymouth, and a new pickup truck. 

In July 2021, Safari restaurant group said it was running five different meal sites for low-income children across the state. According to the search warrant, two were operated by Stigma-Free. 

Those Stigma-Free sites, located in Mankato and Willmar, both claimed to have provided 2,000 meals a day, every day, in July 2021, according to an audit conducted by the Minnesota Department of Education. 

Each site netted $440,820 in federal reimbursements for meals that month. 

It wasn’t just the Stigma-Free sites that reported those meal counts. In the forms they filed, all five sites run by Safari contractors claimed to be providing exactly 2,000 meals daily, for all 31 days of July. 

All told, Safari received $2.2 million in federal funds for meals served in July. 

Between July and November 2021, one of Safari’s bank accounts received $6.2 million in federal funding. The money was spread through several Safari-affiliated companies and organizations, including Tunyar Trading, a firm launched in September 2020, which investigators allege is a shell company.

In 2021, companies affiliated with Safari deposited $4 million into Tunyar Trading’s three bank accounts. 

The FBI believes Tunyar was a shell company created to launder federal nutrition funds back to affiliates of Safari. Investigators also believe that Tunyar Trading and Stigma-Free are operated by the same individual.

Stigma-Free deposited $3.15 million into the shell company, making it the largest contributor.

Jamal Osman starts his career at a community nonprofit

Jamal Osman, currently a Minneapolis City Council member, came to Minneapolis as a refugee from Somalia when he was a teenager. He attended Century College, in White Bear Lake, before majoring in social work at Metropolitan State University. 

After graduating, he took a job at CommonBond Communities, a St. Paul-based nonprofit that provides affordable housing support. He served on staff there for 15 years, working to expand affordable housing, youth-mentorship programs, and career counseling. He also developed a passion for mental health, and has worked in mental healthcare to break stigmas in the East African community. 

“I am a certified mental health response trainer, and Stigma-Free International was the business I used when delivering trainings to businesses about crisis mental health response,” Jamal said in his statement. “I am incredibly proud of the work I did with Stigma-Free International.”

In January 2020, Minneapolis City Councilmember Abdi Warsame announced he would step down to become CEO of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. Jamal entered the race for City Council in Ward 6, pledging to focus on housing and mental health. 

In a crowded 11-candidate field, he won a special election that August with 36 percent of the vote. Jamal won reelection in November 2021 and currently represents neighborhoods including Cedar Riverside, Elliot Park, Philips West, Seward, Stevens Square, and Ventura Village.

In 2019, future Councilmember Jamal Osman files to create Stigma-Free International Inc.

Shortly before the City Council seat first opened up, records show that Jamal incorporated a new nonprofit organization called Stigma-Free International, Inc. He registered the nonprofit at a south Minneapolis apartment address. His wife listed the same apartment as her home address when she donated to Jamal’s first City Council campaign. 

Sahan Journal obtained Stigma-Free International’s business filings from the Minnesota Secretary of State. The documents designate the organization as a nonprofit and name it “incorporators”: that is, the individuals in charge of setting up the organization.

The records, filed with the Secretary of State, show Stigma-Free International Inc. was incorporated in August 2019. The original incorporators named in the document include Jamal Osman and his wife, along with two other colleagues. 

The filing names Jamal as an original director of the nonprofit, along with three other directors. None of these individuals is mentioned in the federal search warrant; attempts to reach them were unsuccessful.

“I was removed as the incorporator and from any responsibilities with Stigma-Free International in early summer 2020,” Jamal said in a statement.

Business registration documents also indicate the organization experienced a major leadership change in 2020. 

In October of that year, the organization filed an amendment with the Secretary of State to replace the incorporators. 

One of those new incorporators, Ahmed Artan, allegedly funneled federal nutrition dollars from Stigma-Free back to Tunyar Trading, according to the search warrant. Both Tunyar Trading and Stigma-Free are operated by Abdikadir Mohamud. 

Ahmed did not immediately respond to Sahan Journal’s voicemails and emails requesting for comment. Neither Ahmed nor Abdikadir has been charged with any crimes. 

According to the Minnesota Secretary of State’s office, “incorporators” are not necessarily the owners of a business; the names simply represent the people who prepared the incorporation paperwork. 

The attorney who filed nonprofit incorporation documents for Stigma-Free to the state told Sahan Journal he does not remember much about the organization. The law firm routinely handles such filings as part of its business, the lawyer said. The attorney said he was not in contact with people from Stigma-Free and that he hasn’t been contacted by anyone involved in the investigation. 

By February of 2021, Stigma-Free International lost its nonprofit status, after failing to file an annual renewal. The Secretary of State’s Office describes this as an “involuntary dissolution.”

Stigma-Free loses its nonprofit status–but keeps getting federal food-aid money

According to the federal investigators, the organization continued to receive federal funding to provide meals. In September 2021, Stigma-Free owner Abdikadir Mohamud emailed Bock an invoice claiming that in August 2021, the organization distributed 2,000 meals a day in Willmar. Abdikadir did not return Sahan Journal’s request for comment; he has not been charged with any crimes. 

Census data show that only 21,000 people live in Willmar. About 5,700 are aged 19 or younger. 

Secretary of State records list an address for Stigma-Free International at 2722 Park Avenue S. in Minneapolis, a mansion that has been renovated into an office building. The house is owned by Cosmopolitan Business Properties, LLC, a company the FBI search warrant alleges was created solely for the purchase of the building by four entities associated with Safari Restaurant with funds designated for feeding children. 

Stigma-Free International contributed nearly $800,000 to the new company, according to the search warrant. Cosmopolitan Business Properties purchased the building in July 2021 for $2,780,000. 

On Monday afternoon, a reporter for Sahan Journal visited the suite containing the Stigma-Free International offices and spoke with a woman who worked at a business in the adjoining suite. 

She did not want to give her name, but said that Stigma-Free International still maintains an office in a small, unmarked room, next to the other business offices. 

The dark wood door to the office was shut and displayed no identifying signage. 

Additional reporting by Joey Peters and Ben Hovland.

Hibah Ansari is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.

Andrew Hazzard covers climate issues for Sahan Journal. He has worked for newspapers in North Dakota, Mississippi and Minnesota. He is member of Society of Environmental Journalists. His work at Sahan...

Becky Z. Dernbach is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists into local newsrooms.