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Judge denies request for Feeding Our Future to pay MN Education Department attorney fees

MDE claims Feeding Our Future filed a "sham lawsuit" in 2020 to prevent the state from stopping federal meal program fraud.
Credit: AP
The offices of Feeding Our Future are shown Thursday, Jan. 27, 2022 in St. Anthony, Minn., a week after FBI agents raided the offices of Minnesota nonprofit. Federal authorities charged 47 people in Minnesota with conspiracy and other counts on Tuesday, Set. 2022, in what they said was a massive scheme that took advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic to steal $250 million from a federal program that provides meals to low-income children. Feeding Our Future’s founder and executive director, Aimee Bock, was among those indicted, and authorities say she and others in her organization submitted the fraudulent claims for reimbursement and received kickbacks. (Shari L. Gross/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS — A judge overseeing the supervised dissolution of Feeding Our Future, the nonprofit implicated in the largest pandemic fraud in the United States, has denied a motion by the Minnesota Education Department to force Feeding Our Future to pay its lawyer fees.

In October 2020, MDE first attempted to regulate Feeding Our Future's operations, and the nonprofit responded by suing the Education Department in Ramsey County, according to court documents. Feeding Our Future claimed MDE's attempts to regulate it were the result of racism.

MDE argued that constituted a "sham lawsuit and frivolous motion practice," and filed a claim against Feeding our Future. MDE sought an award of $583,915 in lawyer fees for defending itself against those claims.

But Judge David Lutz denied MDE's claim, stating that the Education Department has not followed state law requirements in its submission. He denied the motion without prejudice, meaning MDE can file it again at a later time.

In all, 50 people have been indicted in what is referred to as the "Feeding Our Future fraud." U.S. Attorney Andy Luger in September said the nonprofit is at the center of $250 million in stolen federal child nutrition funds, while it claimed to feed needy children.

The FBI made its investigation public in January 2022 when it unsealed several search warrants executed at the homes and offices of people now implicated in the fraud.

The FBI froze at least $3.5 million from Feeding Our Future's bank accounts on Jan. 19, according to court documents. 

The ongoing dissolution case has also unveiled new details about how Aimee Bock, founder and executive director of Feeding our Future, ran her financial books. 

Attorney Jennifer Urban of Legal for Good, which is representing Feeding Our Future in the case, wrote in a letter to Judge Lutz that they have found it "impossible" to retain a qualified certified public accounting firm that's willing to help produce the nonprofit's financial documents and information, "given the indictments and nationwide press coverage."

Urban wrote that Legal for Good spent significant time going through Bock's QuickBooks entries, which are "significantly flawed (perhaps purposely so), with missing payments to nonprofits (food sites known to have received reimbursements), omitted vendors (companies known to have received payment), and erroneous/misstated financial transactions."

"Our firm suspects that the information in QuickBooks constitutes approximately only 1/2 of Feeding Our Future's total financial transactions, with the other transactions (likely cash) unrecorded and known only to Aimee Bock," Urban wrote. "While the specifics of the alleged kickback scheme are still being litigated in criminal court, Feeding Our Future's financial records cannot be restated or audited without access to the documents and records currently in possession of the United States Department of Justice as well as specific details of the kickback transactions."

Bock is charged with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, wire fraud, conspiracy to commit federal programs bribery, and federal programs bribery. She has pleaded not guilty.

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