Feeding Our Future litigation roundup

Four free-food nonprofits are suing the Dept. of Education. Free-food lawsuits may be Minnesota’s biggest growth industry.

Last week, the always alert Lou Raguse of KARE-11 noticed that the state Department of Education (MDE) has renewed its $583,000 claim against the now-defunct nonprofit Feeding Our Future (Feeding, FOF). MDE is suing FOF, again, for recovery of litigation costs the agency incurred in the now-withdrawn lawsuit filed by FOF back in November 2020.

In the original lawsuit, Feeding sought tens of millions of dollars in damages from MDE.

The Department tried this argument in front of a Dakota County judge in late 2022, but failed. They have refiled their claim in Ramsey County court against the nonprofit and its former CEO, Aimee Bock.

Good luck. Feeding Our Future ceased to exist as a corporate entity more than a year ago. What assets they had remaining were seized by the FBI. As for Bock, she doesn’t have a lawyer in the civil case and has not responded to the lawsuit.

In its refiled complaint, the Department is seeking $583,915.11 in lawyer fees and other costs (paragraph 11) incurred in the earlier lawsuit filed by Feeding. MDE rehashes the contents of the many Federal indictments and guilty pleas involving figures in the Feeding scandal, arguing that the November 2020 state lawsuit was baseless and frivolous.

It’s worth mentioning at this point that in Feeding’s original November 2020 filing, the nonprofit lists 51 food vendors (paragraph 36). Of those 51, at least a dozen have been included in Department of Justice Federal indictments.

In the latest counter-suit, MDE mentions (para. 89) that it first contacted the FBI with its suspicions in March 2021, a date earlier than previously reported.

In its response, the lawyer for Feeding Our Future asserts that the original lawsuit had merit, citing the nonprofit’s many victories during the year-long course of the litigation. She describes the earlier legal action “as a righteous act to enforce federal food program laws” (p. 2). Feeding notes that MDE never appealed any of the court’s orders in that case.

Speaking of Lou Raguse, the Channel 11 reporter did some math earlier this week. To date, 50 individuals have been indicted in the FOF case, with six convictions on guilty pleas, so far.

The U.S. Attorney has stated that the fraud exceeds $250 million. Raguse calculates that the defendants charged so far represent only $142 million of the total. He speculates that there are more charges to come.

Elsewhere in his latest report, Raguse profiles the separate St. Paul-based free-food nonprofit Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care).

Partners is one of four free-food nonprofits currently suing the Department of Education, either for reinstatement to the food programs or for payment of unpaid past invoices, or both.

Partners has three lawsuits pending against MDE at the state Court of Appeals, all in the briefing stages.

Addis Foundation, a nonprofit organization working through Partners, has a separate action pending before a state District Court. That lawsuit was filed in August and is also in the briefing stages.

In a just-concluded appeal, Gar Gaar Family Services lost its case before the Court of Appeals.

Feeding Our Future, Partners, and Gar Gaar have all been linked (directly or indirectly) to one or more of the 50 defendants in the case.

New American Development Center (NADC) is another free-food nonprofit suspended by MDE. Like Addis, this organization has not been linked to Feeding Our Future, but is also suing MDE.

The politically-connected NADC operated as a sponsor under both the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), both overseen by the Department.

In over a year of operation, NADC took in $7 million from the free-food programs.

In a decision dated September 2, 2022, an internal appeals panel of MDE upheld the denial of $2 million in claims submitted by NADC under CACFP.

MDE is seeking to claw back $1.1 million in claims submitted by NADC for January and February 2022, paid by MDE, but retroactively denied by MDE.

NADC, founded in 2008, is also pursuing an additional $900,000 in claims submitted by the nonprofit for March and April 2022, but denied by MDE.

The internal MDE appeals panel found (p. 15) that,

The errors and inconsistencies in NADC’s meal claims are so blatant and ubiquitous as to reflect NADC’s recordkeeping failures.

NADC filed their suit in the state Court of Appeals in October 2022, and the case is in the briefing stage. In a separate action, still pending, MDE is seeking to disqualify NADC and the six members of the nonprofit’s board of directors from the free-food program.

MDE has accused NADC of, among other things, paying food vendors before the vendor was incorporated, paying food vendors before the vendor was licensed, and failing to account for all of their food spending.

A final piece of litigation worth noting: state Attorney General Keith Ellision, nominally in charge of regulating nonprofits, has sued the nonprofit company ThinkTechAct.

The Edina offices of ThinkTechAct were subject premises No. 1 in the third FBI search warrant in the case. Nonprofit board members Mahad Ibrahim and Abdiaziz Farah are defendant Nos. 17 and 15, respectively, in the case. In addition to the nonprofit and the two board members, Ellison’s lawsuit also names ThinkTechAct’s executive director Bianca Scott in his lawsuit. Scott was not mentioned in any of the search warrants or indictments in the Feeding Our Future case.

The company is currently listed as “inactive” with the Secretary of State for failing to renew its registration for 2023.