Exterior shot of the Diana E. Murphy United States Courthouse on May 5, 2022. Credit: Ben Hovlans | Sahan Journal

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Federal authorities filed passport fraud charges against a second man who is under investigation in an alleged widespread federal food aid fraud scheme.

Abdiaziz Farah, 33, allegedly lied on a March application for a new passport two months after FBI agents raided his home and seized his passport, among other items. The Savage resident’s charges follow identical federal charges filed last month against Mohamed Jama Ismail.

Abdiaziz and Mohamed, 49, of Savage, are currently in custody at the Sherburne County jail. 

Abdiaziz and Mohamed are co-owners of Empire Cuisine & Market, a Shakopee-based restaurant that received millions of federal dollars to prepare meals for children in daycare and afterschool programs. The FBI alleges that Abdiaziz, Mohamed, and several others misused most of this money for personal use. No one has been charged for their alleged handling of the money.

Abdiaziz’s attorney, Andy Birrell, did not immediately return email and voicemail messages seeking comment Tuesday afternoon.

According to the passport fraud charge: Abdiaziz allegedly purchased a one-way ticket to Kenya on a March 24 flight, but ultimately didn’t board the flight that day. Federal authorities surveilled Empire Cuisine last week and witnessed Abdiaziz enter the restaurant and then an unidentified man entering while “appearing to carry a stack of passports.” Authorities arrested Abdiaziz four days later on Monday.

The charges did not provide further details about the passports.

The charging documents state that Abdiaziz also acted as a board member of ThinkTechAct Foundation, which received $21 million of federal Child Nutrition Programs money between February 2021 and January 2022. Most of this money—$18 million—came from Partners in Quality Care, also known as Partners in Nutrition, and $3 million came from Feeding Our Future.

Partners in Nutrition and Feeding Our Future act as go-betweens. They receive Child Nutrition money from the government and then distribute it to sites they contract with, such as nonprofits and religious institutions, who are supposed to supply ready-to-eat meals to low-income children. 

ThinkTechAct then transferred $15 million of its money to Empire Cuisine. The charging documents state that Empire Cousine received another $12 million of Child Nutrition money–$11 million of it from Partners in Quality Care.

A Partners in Quality Care staff member who also served as a board member of Partners in Quality Care allegedly sent $2.5 million in Child Nutrition money to Empire Cuisine, the charges say. 

An attorney for Partners in Quality Care staffers did not immediately return email and voicemail messages left by Sahan Journal Tuesday afternoon seeking comment on the allegations. 

Kenneth Udoibok, an attorney for former Feeding Our Future Executive Director Aimee Bock, said the bulk of Empire Cuisine’s contracts for Child Nutrition money didn’t come through Feeding Our Future. He emphasized that Feeding Our Future terminated its agreement with Empire Cuisine in 2021 for allegedly serving bad food. 

“There’s other information I have that I’m not at liberty to discuss,” Udoibok told Sahan Journal. 

Lakefront properties, a Kentucky church, luxury cars

Apart from co-owning Empire Cuisine, Abdiaziz served as director of Gateway STEM Academy, a Burnsville charter school. He went on unpaid leave one day after federal authorities raided his home and news of the investigation went public. 

Federal charges allege that Abdiaziz used shell companies to launder millions of dollars from the Child Nutrition Programs. He allegedly made a variety of big purchases with the money that include:

  • Two lakefront lots and the construction of an 8,000 square-foot home in Prior Lake for $2.5 million.
  • $1.5 million in overseas investments in China and Kenya, including in two tire manufacturing companies, an arts and crafts company, and a clothing company. The charging documents also state that Abdiaziz purchased diesel engines in Hong Kong.
  • $1 million on two properties in Louisville, Kentucky, including an old church and a commercial building. 
  • $575,000 for a home in Savage where Abdiaziz resided and which FBI agents raided in January of this year. At least 23 other properties, including Feeding Our Future’s headquarters and the private homes of other individuals, were also raided at the time.
  • $350,000 on five luxury cars, including a Tesla Model Y, Porsche, Jeep Wrangler, GMC Sierra Pickup Truck, and a Nissan Murano SUV.
  • A $335,000 townhome in Burnsville. 
  • $30,000 to Coinbase, an online platform used to purchase cryptocurrency.

Federal authorities seized $6 million in cash as well as Abdiaziz’s passport during the January raid of his Savage home. 

Abdiaziz applied for a new passport on March 22—the same day that Mohamed allegedly lied on his new passport application. On his application, Abdiaziz marked that he lost his passport.

“I could not find it anywhere in my house or car,” the charges say Abdiaziz wrote. 

For two questions asking where and when he lost his passport, Abdiaziz allegedly wrote “unknown.”  He purchased his one-way ticket to Kenya one week before submitting his new passport application.

Abdiaziz has a detention hearing scheduled for 10 a.m. Wednesday. 

Federal authorities arrested Mohamed last month on a jetway in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport as he attempted to board an April 4 flight to Kenya.

Mohamed’s attorney has previously said that his client was making a routine visit to see his wife, kids, and parents, who all live in Nairobi, and planned to return to Minnesota a month later. Mohamed purchased a round-trip flight, but federal authorities emphasized that he had five bags of checked luggage and two carry-on bags when he was arrested. His case is pending.

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...