Credit: Sahan Journal

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FBI agents arrested a Minnesota man Wednesday afternoon as he allegedly attempted to leave the country while under a federal investigation for stealing millions of dollars from a federal child nutrition program.

Mohamed Jama Ismail, 49, is currently in custody at Sherburne County Jail following his initial appearance Thursday in a federal court. The U.S. Attorney’s Office issued an arrest warrant for Mohamed and apprehended him on Wednesday at Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport, alleging that he’d lied in a March 2022 application for a new passport. 

He was charged with one count of passport fraud. Mohamed’s attorney, Patrick Cotter, did not immediately respond to phone calls and an email seeking comment Thursday evening.

Mohamed’s arrest marks the first arrest of a person associated with what has become known as the Feeding Our Future investigation. 

The FBI has targeted Mohamed since the investigation began in May 2021. His house was one of 15 properties the FBI raided on January 20, 2022, when the FBI investigation first became public. During that raid, FBI agents seized Mohamed’s passport, bank checks, a Movado watch, a screen projector, an iPhone 13 Max Pro, a Maxim Defense AR pistol, and a Daniel Defense rifle, among other items. 

The arrest warrant alleges that Mohamed went on to lie in an application for a replacement passport and then attempted to leave the country. On Wednesday morning, he successfully flew from Rochester to Minneapolis–St. Paul International Airport. Two hours later, Mohamed attempted to board his next flight to Amsterdam. He’d scheduled his final destination as Nairobi. 

FBI agents arrested Mohamed on the jetway, as he was walking with a backpack and a suitcase to board his flight to Amsterdam. The arrest warrant adds that Mohamed had checked five additional bags for his trip to Kenya.

The arrest warrant states that Mohamed purchased a round-trip flight to Nairobi on April 4. The return flight was booked for May 19.

During the raid of his home on January 20, Mohamed told FBI agents that his wife and five children have lived in Nairobi, Kenya since 2018, according to court documents. He allegedly told FBI agents that his wife splits her time between Minnesota and Kenya. The arrest warrant, however, alleges this is untrue and that his wife hasn’t been in the U.S. since 2018.

He also told agents that he owns two homes, including a rental property, and co-owns a textile company based in Kenya, court documents say. 

Mohamed allegedly co-founded Empire Cuisine & Market, a restaurant operation that contracted as a food vendor with Feeding Our Future. Mohamed and a business partner allegedly received millions of dollars of federal Child Nutrition money, and wired $2 million of it to bank accounts in China and Kenya, according to the arrest warrant.

FBI agents seized more than $6 million from Empire Cuisine in January. The U.S. Attorney’s Office is attempting to seize Mohamed’s Savage home, among other properties.

On March 22, two months after FBI agents seized his passport, Mohamed applied for a new passport with the Minneapolis Passport Agency, the warrant says. In his application, Mohamed allegedly wrote that he’d lost his passport at home. He also checked a box indicating that he filed a police report about his missing passport. The arrest warrant for Mohamed says the police department in his hometown of Savage refuted Mohamed’s account. 

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...