2nd man connected to federal child nutrition investigation charged with passport fraud

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A second man being investigated for his role in a scheme to launder tens of millions of dollars in child nutrition funds faces federal charges after he allegedly lied on a passport application.

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah of Savage is charged with one count of passport fraud, court documents show. He has not been charged in connection with the Federal Child Nutrition Program fraud investigation.

An affidavit states Farah was connected to several companies that combined to fraudulently receive more than $32 million in federal funds earmarked for reimbursing meals for children.

Farah is named as the owner and co-founder of Empire Cuisine & Market, a “small storefront restaurant and market” in a Shakopee strip mall. He’s also on the board of directors of the ThinkTechAct Foundation, which at one point claimed to be serving meals to 160,000 children a day at 10 different distribution centers.

From February 2021 to January 2022, ThinkTechAct received $21.8 million in federal funds from its sponsors, Partners in Quality Care and Feeding Our Future. Of those funds, $15.5 million — more than 70% — was distributed to Farah’s companies, Empire Cusine & Market LLC and Empire Enterprises LLC, according to court records. Empire Cuisine & Market received another $12 million directly from Partners in Quality Care and Feeding Our Future.

Federal investigators found that more than 90% of the money deposited into Farah’s companies’ bank accounts came from the Federal Child Nutrition Program, and the vast majority was spent on real estate and vehicles or sent abroad — not on food, as the companies claimed.

In all, federal agents discovered Farah had purchased five cars with a combined value of $300,000 and spent nearly $4.5 million on real estate in Minnesota and Louisville, Kentucky, the complaint states. A search warrant also recovered receipts showing he had transferred $1.5 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds to China and Kenya.

According to the complaint, he also gave kickbacks to his co-conspirators, including Mohamed Jama Ismail, who was also charged with passport fraud. Ismail, 49, co-founded Empire Cuisine & Market with Farah. He was arrested in April when he tried to flee the country using a fraudulently obtained passport.

On Jan. 20, FBI investigators executed search warrants on 20 locations around the Twin Cities, including the homes of Farah and Ismail. Court records indicate the FBI also received a warrant to seize more than $6 million from Farah’s bank accounts that had been traced to Federal Child Nutrition Program funds.

While carrying out the warrant at Farah’s home in Savage and Empire Market & Cuisine, agents confiscated Farah’s U.S. passport, among other items, according to court records.

Prosecutors allege Farah — who was born in Mogadishu, Somalia, and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2012 — applied for a new passport on March 16 and falsely claimed he had lost it and “could not find (it) anywhere in my house or car.” Based on his application, the U.S. Department of State issued Farah a new passport on March 22.

The day Farah applied for a new passport, he booked a one-way flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Nairobi, Kenya, scheduled for March 24, the criminal complaint states. He did not end up boarding that flight.

On Friday, Farah was charged via warrant and made his first appearance in federal court on Monday. He is in the custody of the U.S. Marshals Service.