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Blame flies over $250 million fraud scheme

(The Center Square) – After taxpayers lost $250 million in what federal officials deemed “the largest pandemic fraud” in the nation, the government agencies involved are blaming each other.

The Department of Justice charged 47 people with the fraud, alleging they exploited federal money left unguarded by lax COVID rules meant to feed hungry kids.

Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, called for Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller to resign if a Ramsey County judge accurately described the Feeding our Future scheme, saying that “All of the MN Department of Education food reimbursement payments to FOF were made voluntarily, without any court order.”

Gov. Tim Walz blamed Ramsey County District Court Judge John H. Guthmann for taxpayer money continually flowing to scammers. On Friday, Guthmann rebuked Walz for “inaccurate statements” that Guthmann ordered payments to continue to FOF in April 2021.

“As the public court record and Judge Guthmann’s orders make plain, Judge Guthmann never issued an order requiring the MN Department of Education to resume food reimbursement payments to FOF,” the Minnesota Judicial Branch said in a press release. “The Department of Education voluntarily resumed payments and informed the court that FOF resolved the “serious deficiencies” that prompted it to suspend payments temporarily. All of the MN Department of Education food reimbursement payments to FOF were made voluntarily, without any court order.”

MDE suspended payments to FOF based on a “serious deficiencies” letter on March 30, 2021, but FOF filed a motion asking Guthmann to order the MDE to resume payments and to pay sanctions.

The MDE said in a statement that “Feeding Our Future demanded that MDE make payments, and the court made it clear that if MDE were to continue the legal fight to withhold payments, MDE would incur sanctions and legal penalties. The court held MDE in contempt for not processing Feeding Our Future Applications.”

MDE says it raised red flags about FOF in early 2020, but the nonprofit sued to demand MDE process site applications and reimbursement funding.

MDE attached a court transcript from the April 2021 hearing and a June order which held MDE in contempt of court for not quickly processing FOF site applications. In the June ruling, the court ordered MDE to pay FOF $35,750 and $11,750 in attorney fees.

Miller said that if MDE continued payments voluntarily to fraudsters, then Mueller should resign.

“When it comes to fraud, waste, and abuse, there is no political or partisan take. As Minnesotans, we expect accountability for public officials who fail to protect the taxpayers’ dollars,” Miller said in a statement. “After reading Judge Guthmann’s statement, if it is true MDE was under no obligation to continue to pay Feeding our Future, and Commissioner Mueller was dishonest before a Senate Committee about the Judge’s actions, I have no choice but to call for the Commissioner to resign.”

MDE filed a claim seeking to recover $583,000 of taxpayer dollars MDE spent defending FOF lawsuits.


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