State seeks to recover money from Feeding Our Future following federal fraud charges

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One day after federal prosecutors unsealed indictments in what they called the nation’s largest case of pandemic fraud, a state agency is pushing back against criticism that it did not do enough to stop the misappropriation of millions of taxpayer dollars.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) filed a legal claim Wednesday against Feeding Our Future, accusing the nonprofit of “baseless legal attacks.”

Aimee Bock, the founder and executive director of Feeding Our Future, is one of 48 people charged with $250 million in fraud involving federal child nutrition programs.

RELATED: Feds charge 47 in massive COVID-related fraud scheme tied to Feeding Our Future

But in 2020, when MDE attempted to restrict the flow of federal funds to the nonprofit, Bock sued the state agency.

“Feeding Our Future has been and continues to be irreparably harmed by MDE’s refusal to accept and process applications,” said the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County. “Every day that goes by hundreds of the state’s most vulnerable children are going without much needed meals and food during a global pandemic.”

MDE eventually agreed to resume processing claims from Feeding Our Future, and a judge ordered the state to pay the nonprofit more than $35,000 as well as attorneys’ fees.

On Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger said that lawsuit filed by Feeding Our Future was “simply part of the scheme” to cover up fraud.

“It was a powerful allegation and persuasive, but as the indictments allege, it was all lie,” Luger said. “The vast majority of the money for these sites was simply going into the pockets of the defendants not to feed children.”

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Bock pleaded not guilty to all charges, but now MDE is seeking to recover more than $500,000 that the state spent defending itself in court.

“MDE was forced to expend resources to defend our agency and staff from this baseless sham lawsuit. The value of those resources must be returned to Minnesota’s taxpayers,” said Education Commissioner Heather Mueller.

Despite praise for MDE from federal authorities, some state lawmakers still have questions about whether the state agency could have done more.

The Office of the Legislative Auditor announced Wednesday that it had launched its own review of MDE’s oversight of Feeding Our Future.