Feeding Our Future update: Gar Gaar appeal denied, former MN SOS Mark Ritchie banned from food program

The nonprofit Youth Leadership Academy, d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Services, had been the third largest Minnesota participant in the Federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), one of two child nutrition programs caught up in the larger Feeding Our Future scandal. In its only year of operation (2021), Gar Gaar took in $27 million and claimed to have served some 7 million meals.

In a move unrelated to problems with the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, the state Department of Education (MDE) suspended Gar Gaar from participating in the SFSP in December 2021.

(Our past reporting on Gar Gaar can be found here.)

Around the same time, MDE denied Gar Gaar’s pending petition to join the year-round Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) at 52 sites. Gar Gaar appealed MDE’s denial to the state Court of Appeals. The Court heard their appeal in December 2022, and on Monday issued their order upholding the denial.

Here’s a link to the Appeals Court ruling:

The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that Gar Gaar suffered another setback earlier this month, when the nonprofit exhausted all of its internal appeals within MDE for reinstatement to the SFSP. The Star Tribune reports further that MDE took an extra step and banned the members of Gar Gaar’s board of directors and two other related individuals from future participation in the free-food program.

Among the four board members banned by MDE are the nonprofit’s CEO, COO, and board member Mark Ritchie. The latter served two terms as Minnesota’s Secretary of State (from 2007 to 2015) and is a member of the Democratic party.

Gar Gaar’s CEO, Khadija Ali was honored last month by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal as one of the region’s “Top 50 Black Leaders.”

Until September 2022, Gar Gaar’s COO, Priya Morioka, was a member of Gov. Walz workforce development board.

The paper reports that the Gar Gaar board members may appeal MDE’s latest decision to the Court of Appeals. The Department’s latest decision can be found here:

Gar Gaar was not associated in any way with Feeding Our Future. However, MDE established connections between Gar Gaar and two defendants in the case, Nos. 31 and 32 (page 16, paragraph “I”). In addition, MDE noted the business relationships between Gar Gaar and S&S Catering, owned by Defendant No. 23 in the case. (See footnote 9, page 15.)

Defendant No. 32, Fahad Nur, is one of two defendants believed to have fled the country. According to the Department of Education, Nur’s company was paid more than $1 million by Gar Gaar. According to the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Nur’s company received $5 million through the Feeding Our Future scam.

Nur was implicated in the conviction of Defendant No. 33, and guilty plea No. 5, Anab Awad.