Critical dates in the Feeding Our Future timeline

What did they know and when did they know it? Since the U.S. Attorney announced the first set of indictments in the scandal last week (now grown to 49 individuals charged), much attention has been placed on questions of timing.

The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has come in for much criticism over their handling of the Feeding Our Future affair. For his part, Gov. Tim Walz wants credit for catching the fraud. He is quoted by MPR News as saying,

We caught this fraud. We caught it very early. 

But how early? MDE has not been forthcoming with details of their handling of the case.

The Star Tribune has published a timeline of events. The state Senate Republicans have published their timeline.

But perhaps the best public record we have of what went on behind the scenes is a document provided by Feeding Our Future itself.

Feeding Our Future sued the Department in November 2020 for MDE’s failure to process Feeding’s applications for new meal distribution sites.

Feeding outlines, from their perspective, the history of their relationship with the department in a filing made on January 11, 2022, just nine days before the FBI raids. Here is a screenshot of page 10, paragraph 42,

Just a month after the pandemic lockdowns began in March 2020, Feeding Our Future submitted an application to add Safari Restaurant to the network. As it turns out, Safari Restaurant was the subject of the first indictment filed by U.S. Attorney Andy Luger in the case.

What was the reaction of the Department to these April 2020 applications? Feeding explains,

Huh. So it turns out that MDE made an aggressive, if unexplained, move to prevent these locations from even entering the program. MDE would relent and all nine applications would be eventually approved. Fast forward to October 2020.

Which five vendors were the subject of this MDE action? Feeding explains,

We’ve already discussed Safari Restaurant. S&S Catering was the subject of the third indictment filed by the U.S. Attorney. The FBI claims that nowhere near 750,000 meals were served by these sites in October 2020. So it appears that, from the beginning, MDE knew that Feeding Our Future was not on the level, and knew precisely which specific members of their vast network were the culprits. In January 2021, MDE moved to shut down the entire Feeding Our Future Network (p. 12, paragraph 54).

When did Gov. Walz find out? The Minnesota Reformer reports that he learned of the fraud sometime in 2020. The exact date is the subject of an ever-shifting timeline, but can be bracketed as sometime between April and November of that year.

The Governor knew about the fraud in 2020, but kept the money flowing to Feeding Our Future throughout 2021.

Eventually, MDE would suspend three free-food networks from the program.

The timing of when MDE knew what becomes important. The Department did not contact the FBI about their suspicions until April 2021, a full year after they first moved against Safari Restaurant. The FBI claims that at least $250 million was stolen by the individuals indicted so far. Almost all of that amount went out the door after MDE first caught on to Feeding Our Future and their scam.

In its lawsuit, Feeding Our Future accuses MDE of defamation, by making public claims of fraud. From the lawsuit, page 24,

“Mr. Korte” refers to Assistant Education Commissioner Daron Korte. The article referenced is this piece in the Pioneer Press in April 2021.

In the lawsuit, Feeding Our Future makes the point that MDE tosses around the word “fraud” in the media (paragraph 121) but is careful to avoid the word in actual legal filings (paragraph 124, the March 31 letter).

Feeding Our Future refers to (paragraph 122) this list of sites published by the Pioneer Press in April 2021, and takes credit for 6 of the 8 locations listed.

Of the 8 sites provided by MDE to the Pioneer Press, six are listed in the U.S. Attorney’s indictment filed last week, as all but the Partners in Nutrition sites are mentioned. Once again, it appears that MDE knew exactly who was committing the fraud, but inside the courtroom, did not have the courage of their convictions.