x
Breaking News
More () »

Lawmakers question Education Department about alleged meal program fraud

The third legislative hearing on the topic focused on why the Education Department didn't make a visit even after seeing red flags from the meal site sponsor.

SAINT PAUL, Minnesota — A third and final Minnesota Senate committee hearing focused on the fraud allegedly committed by nonprofit Feeding Our Future and a number of federal meal program sites they oversaw.

The Minnesota Department of Education oversaw Feeding Our Future and distributed federal money that the nonprofit would then, in turn, pay meal sites.

According to search warrants filed as part of a federal investigation, a number of those sites overstated the number of meals they served to children in need during the COVID-19 pandemic then used the money to purchase properties. Feeding Our Future got to keep a percentage of the money as an administrative fee, documents state.

Throughout these legislative hearings, Education Department officials have been defensive of the job they did overseeing Feeding our Future. And today, an assistant commissioner went a step further — laying blame on the USDA and a district judge who ordered them to continue giving payments even after raising concerns.

"Did the Education Department's process work to prevent hundreds of thousands of fraud?" Republican State Senator Roger Chamberlain asked.

"I believe our staff did everything within their power to slow the growth of the programs or at least understand what happened. Unfortunately we were not given the backing of the USDA and the judge required in the lawsuit to move things along in timely manner. If those thing hadn't happened, we could have done more, but that’s what we were up against," said Daron Korte, assistant MDE commissioner.

One of the meal sites was Safari Restaurant in Minneapolis, claiming to feed 5,000 children a day — which is more than those who attend Minnesota's largest high school, Wayzata.

According to the search warrant, the owner of Safari used the money to buy a $1 million house in the suburbs. 

Chamberlain questioned why Education Department officials didn't just go there and confirm whether children were receiving meals. 

"We certainly did not waive all of our monitoring requirements. Monitoring was occurring. Oversight was happening. But at that point, we were not doing site visits — in part because they might not have been particularly useful because many sites were doing home delivery at that time, and also because many sites weren't allowing outside people other than their own students and staff on site," Korte said.

No one has been charged in the federal investigation. Feeding our Future and Safari Restaurant deny all criminal wrongdoing.

Watch more local news:

Watch the latest local news from the Twin Cities in our YouTube playlist: