Sharmarke Issa. Credit: Minneapolis Public Housing Authority

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The board chair of the Minneapolis Public Housing Authority, who is co-owner of an apartment complex that the federal government alleges was bought with money meant to feed children, resigned from his city position last week, citing “personal matters.” 

Sharmarke Issa, who has served as chair of the housing authority board since 2019, co-owns a four-unit apartment complex in south Minneapolis with Abdi Salah, a former senior policy aide to Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, according to Hennepin County property records. Abdi Salah left his role at the mayor’s office on February 17 following a call from Sahan Journal about his connection to the fraud investigation.

Frey appointed Sharmarke to chair the board of the housing authority in 2019 and again in 2021. This made Sharmarke the first Somali to chair the largest public housing authority in the state.

Sharmarke resigned from his role as board chair of the housing authority in a handwritten letter dated February 14. 

“I’m grateful for having had the opportunity to serve on the board of this fine organization for the past three-plus years, and offer my best wishes for its continued success,” Sharmarke wrote in the letter. 

The property is tied to a sweeping federal investigation alleging the misuse of tens of millions of dollars meant to feed children. Neither Sharmarke or Abdi, nor anyone else, has been charged in the investigation. 

Sharmarke did not respond to multiple efforts by Sahan Journal to contact him by telephone and text. He told the Star Tribune that his resignation wasn’t motivated by the federal investigation, and that he wasn’t aware any money used to buy the apartment complex came from federal food aid. 

Following his resignation, Abdi subsequently told the Star Tribune that he was leaving his position to take care of a child he and his wife are expecting. Abdi’s attorney Brian Toder declined to comment on the allegations when reached by Sahan Journal on the phone on Wednesday. 

Both the mayor’s office and the Minneapolis City Clerk’s office told Sahan Journal that they received Sharmarke’s resignation letter on February 18, and time-stamped it with that same date. Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Deputy Executive Director Jennifer Keogh, however, told Sahan Journal that the housing authority received the resignation letter on February 14. 

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The U.S. Attorney’s Office has filed for forfeiture of the Minneapolis apartment complex that Sharmarke and Abdi own, alleging that the $200,000 used to buy it “was traceable to payments from Feeding Our Future.”

Feeding Our Future is the nonprofit at the center of the federal investigation. The organization, which administers money from two federal programs meant to feed disadvantaged children, passing it along to nonprofits across the state, is alleged to have facilitated an embezzlement scheme in which tens of millions of federal dollars were used for personal purposes. Feeding Our Future Executive Director Aimee Bock has denied all wrongdoing. 

In a statement, a spokesperson for Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the office learned about the allegations involving Sharmarke on Wednesday. 

“If true, the allegations outlined in the federal investigation are appalling and run counter to the values that we are entrusted to uphold in the City of Minneapolis,” Frey spokesperson Tara Niebling said. 

In a statement, Minneapolis Public Housing Authority Executive Director Abdi Warsame also said he first learned of allegations involving Sharmarke on Wednesday.

“I am personally shocked and saddened by this allegation as to Mr. Issa’s involvement in a federal investigation,” Abdi said. “MPHA will carry on its important work and look forward to the City moving quickly to appoint MPHA’s next Chair.”

Sharmarke came to the U.S. at age 11 and grew up in subsidized housing. One-third of Minneapolis Public Housing Authority households are East African, according to the Minneapolis city government. 

Sharmarke was reappointed and confirmed by the Minneapolis City County last fall to a second three-year term. His second term, which was set to last through 2024, began on January 1 of this year.

Joey Peters

Joey Peters is a reporter for Sahan Journal. His work has appeared in Reuters, Public Radio International, Columbia Journalism Review, KFAI Radio, the Pioneer Press, City Pages, MinnPost and more. He previously...