In the alleged Feeding Our Future scandal, the role of Empire Cuisine

The free food scandal in Minnesota centers on the since-disbanded nonprofit Feeding Our Future. The FBI alleges that large-scale fraud took place in two government programs meant to provide free food for children. FBI search warrants describe three networks operating under Feeding Our Future, each built around a different private food vendor.

This post concerns the group affiliated with the Shakopee restaurant Empire Cuisine and Market. The Empire Cuisine network is the subject of the third FBI search warrant in this case. Abdiaziz Farah and Mohamed Ismail are listed in state records as the owners of the restaurant.

Empire Cuisine acted as food vendor to two companies operating under the sponsorship of Feeding Our Future. Empire was incorporated in April 2020. As shown below, what the FBI alleges is fraud on an industrial scale.

ThinkTechAct and Mind Foundry are both companies founded by Mahad Ibrahim in 2016 and have been named in the case. ThinkTechAct is organized as a nonprofit foundation. Mind Foundry is incorporated as a for-profit concern. Ibrahim’s office in a coworking location at Southdale Mall in Edina was searched by the FBI on January 20.

Ibrahim donated $250 to Rep. Ilhan Omar’s (D-Minneapolis) campaign for state representative in 2018.

The FBI claims that the ThinkTechAct/Mind Foundry group received more than $16 million from the government food programs in 2021 (warrant, page 14, paragraph 49). According to the FBI, most of this money was transferred to Empire Cuisine or related entities and little of it was used to feed children (para. 50).

The two programs involved are the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). In Minnesota, both are overseen by the state Department of Education (MDE).

Here are the free-food sites associated with the ThinkTechAct nonprofit foundation, along with their approved maximum daily serving capacities, for each of the past two fiscal years:

These are the sites listed under the Mind Foundry banner:

Many of the above locations were served by Empire Cuisine, but here is the full list of sites served by Empire under the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).

As you can see, Empire served sites under the sponsorship of both Feeding Our Future and under the now-suspended Partners in Nutrition network. In addition, Empire itself hosted a site at its Shakopee restaurant in the summer of 2020. It seems amazing that MDE never flagged the fact that a single restaurant claimed the ability to serve 16,700 children a day.

The FBI alleges that a large portion of the money received by these entities from the federal programs was used to purchase real estate in Kenya, Minnesota and Ohio (para. 67-82). Some of the more fun purchases included stays at a Ritz-Carlton hotel (para. 60), a Porsche, and cryptocurrency (para. 83).

Abdiaziz Farah, the Empire co-owner, is also the founder of a Minnesota public charter school, Gateway STEM Academy in Burnsville. When news of the scandal broke in late January, Farah had to step down from his role at the school.

As recent as June 2021, both Farah and Mahad Ibrahim of ThinkTechAct were shown as board members of the school. Neither appear on the current board roster. Farah is still listed as president of the school on the Minnesota Secretary of State’s website. He is also still listed in the staff directory. The K-6 school is not named in any FBI search warrant.

As it happens, Gateway STEM itself participates in the free food programs. The school participates independently in the regular school lunch program (School Nutrition Program (SNP) with an enrollment of 243 students. The school participates in the Summer Food program, for its own enrollment of 250 students (M-F) and as a public distribution site for 650 children, seven days a week. Farah is listed in the MDE database as the local contact for all three efforts.

Farah donated $1,000 to a local Democrat politician running for the state senate in 2020.

The FBI searched Farah’s home in Savage. The FBI alleges Farah used $575,000 in fraud money to purchase the house (para. 72-75). It also searched his brother’s home in Minneapolis.