St. Paul nonprofit agrees to corrective actions after the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office files injunction

A Minnesota nonprofit group created to help refugees is accused of deceptive fundraising, failing to maintain adequate financial records, and allowing a multi-million dollar piece of real estate to fall into disrepair. 

Court records filed last week paint a troubling picture of the Minnesota Cameroon Community (MINCAM).

The St. Paul-based nonprofit agreed to a long list of corrective actions after the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office sought injunctive relief in district court.

A petition filed by the attorney general’s office alleges the nonprofit failed to manage and maintain its most important asset, the Cameroon Community Center. 

The community center is a “hub for MINCAM gatherings, community building, and fundraising,” according to the petition. The petition alleges MINCAM bought the $3 million building in 2014 for the bargain price of just under $200,000. 

But in the following years, the organization failed to replace an aging boiler system or pay off a tax lien on the building despite soliciting donations for those expenses.

“The public contributed more than $60,000 specifically to pay the Cameroon Community Center’s tax debt to Ramsey County,” the petition states, adding the organization “paid only $45,491.52 to Ramsey County.”

“MINCAM could not account for how the other funds were used,” the petition says. 

Isabelle Atem, the board chair for MINCAM, said in a statement to 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that they are working on revising its bylaws. “We have also been in touch with the Attorney General’s Office who has asked us to change the way we have been operating as a non-profit with various changing volunteer leadership and the mishaps that can ensue,” the statement read.

After MINCAM stopped paying for insurance coverage, the property was significantly damaged when frozen pipes burst in 2021. The community center is now worth less than $650,000 based on recent offers, court records show.

“In short, MINCAM leadership has consistently failed to safeguard the organization’s chief asset,” the petition states.

Additionally, MINCAM is accused of failing to register as a nonprofit with the state attorney general and poor financial record-keeping. 

“MINCAM maintained only a handful of summary spreadsheets tracking broad financial details. MINCAM did not track its financial activities for recent years,” the petition states. “Donations were tracked sporadically on handwritten lists and did not consistently track the purpose for which funds were given.” 

The court-ordered injunction includes corrective actions such as enacting new policies requiring comprehensive board minutes and financial records, retaining auditors with nonprofit experience, registering with the state, and other actions. 

Read the full statement from Isabelle Atem, board chair for MINCAM:

Cameroonians in Minnesota have been gathering for over 30 years. What began as get-togethers to reminisce about home over traditional Cameroonian food evolved into an extensive network that was formalized in the 2008 with the founding of Minnesota Cameroon Community (MINCAM) to support Cameroonians as they adjust to life in Minnesota, encourage members to participate in economic, social, cultural, and community activities, and provide a forum to discuss matters that affect Cameroonians in Minnesota and Africa.

Throughout our growth, we have needed a place to gather and in 2015 received the opportunity to purchase a hall for our community. While gathering for fellowship, food, and sporting events was manageable for a volunteer run organization, owning and managing a building has proven challenging and we have struggled as a community and a non-profit.

Our MINCAM bylaws were created to reflect our African heritage, and to offer a place at the table for the existing Cameroonian alumni and cultural organizations. Since acquiring non-profit status, we have discovered they are not in keeping with the structure required by the State of Minnesota. They have also not sustained the needs of the community as we have struggled to support Cameroonians, maintain and finance our community center, and provide leadership for our members.

This past year, we have worked with Propel Nonprofits to revise our bylaws and learn more about what is required of us as a non-profit. We have also sought to sell our building or find collaborative investors who share similar goals and values to welcome new immigrants. We have also been in touch with the Attorney General’s Office who has asked us to change the way we have been operating as a non-profit with various changing volunteer leadership and the mishaps that can ensue. The AGO office has provided clear guidance and we have already begun to act upon their requests for change. We welcome their input and look forward to supporting our community as intended, beyond the burdens we have faced in the last years.

Read the complete filing here: