(KMSP) - Government agents continue to track a huge increase in cash being taken in suitcases by couriers on flights out of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
Sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell the Fox 9 Investigators more than $100 million flew out of MSP last year, with things on pace to exceed that number this year. Much of the cash is headed to places like Kenya and Somalia.
The business of transferring money this way is legal, and for many immigrants it's the only option they have to send funds to help relatives in countries with no official banking system. But multiple state and federal sources tell the Fox 9 Investigators they suspect millions of those dollars are coming from daycare fraud.
"In reviewing some of the data I saw a lot of things that concerned me," said Scott Stillman, a former computer forensics expert for the Department of Human Services. In that role, he helped investigate all kinds of fraud cases.
"Defrauded tax dollars are being sent overseas to countries and organizations connected to entities known to fund terrorism," he wrote in an email to his supervisors last year, saying afterword: "I felt compelled to report that because there are lives at stake."
Once the cash leaves the U.S. it's hard to trace where it goes and who gets their hands on it, but there are strong indicators that at least some of that money ends up in the pockets of bad guys.
Former Minneapolis police officer Jeannie Brudenell spent years working as a liaison officer with Minnesota's East African immigrant communities before getting a call from the United Nations to work on a special assignment in Somalia. Her job was to track how the terrorist group Al Shabaab was getting money to buy weapons and supplies. She found the group was making millions on illegal sales of charcoal and, oftentimes, extortion through so-called taxes.
"You come up to an Al Shabaab checkpoint and they tell you, 'Pay this if you want to pass,'" Brudenell said. "And you do."
According to a United Nations report she helped write, some of those Al Shabaab checkpoints were collecting $25,000 a day from individuals and businesses. Brudenell says almost all money from Minnesota headed to that part of the world will likely be touched by Al Shabaab's "taxes."
That includes both money sent with good intentions to help families or the money swindled from American taxpayers by fraudsters.
"Al Shabaab has been doing huge taxation of this movement of money," said Omar Jamal, a media savvy member of the Minnesota Somali community who says he wants to help put shady daycare operators out of business and stop the flow of stolen public money going overseas. The Department of Human Services says Jamal has met with the agency to discuss the daycare fraud issue.
Scott Stillman says he wrote those emails to DHS managers last year out of concern for national security and the safety of U.S. service members. Just last week an American soldier taking part in a special operations mission in Somalia was killed in an attack from Al Shabaab fighters.