Feeding Our Future update: Gar Gaar has its day in court

The third large free-food nonprofit suspended by the state Department of Education (MDE) appeared in the state Court of Appeals yesterday.

Youth Leadership Academy, d/b/a Gar Gaar Family Services, is appealing its suspension from the Federal Summer Food Service Program (SFSP). The SFSP is overseen in Minnesota by MDE.

The nonprofit is headquartered in NE Minneapolis.

Yesterday, the nonprofit appeared before a panel of the Court of Appeals, arguing for reinstatement. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports,

A Minneapolis nonprofit argued Thursday that it’s being unfairly scrutinized in light of the massive Feeding Our Future fraud investigation and was arbitrarily denied the chance to serve meals to children in need.

The Star Tribune points out that Gar Gaar was shut down a month before the FBI raids on the unrelated nonprofit Feeding Our Future.

[Earlier this week, we posted a 20-minute YouTube video on the origins of the Feeding Our Future scandal.]

An audio recording of the hearing is available here.

In 2022, we’ve written extensively about the operations of this nonprofit. In 2021, Gar Gaar was the largest nonprofit sponsor operating within the SFSP in Minnesota. It served 7 million meals and received more than $26 million in revenue from MDE.

According to a document filed in the state lawsuit, Gar Gaar was unable to account for how $2 million of that money was spent (p. 9).

Gar Gaar’s largest member nonprofit, Somali Community Resettlement Services (SCRS), recently purchased a historic Minneapolis mansion for $2.6 million.

The larger free-food nonprofits Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition operated mostly under a different Federal free-food program, the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP).

Gar Gaar applied also to operate under CACFP, but were denied by MDE. That separate decision is also under appeal.

The Star Tribune reports,

On Thursday, Berens [Gar Gaar’s attorney] told appellate judges Francis Connolly, Matthew Johnson and Lucinda Jesson that the Education Department found no evidence of fraud with Gar Gaar and no one associated with the nonprofit has been linked to Feeding Our Future.

Not exactly. MDE documented in early 2022 that one of Gar Gaar’s food vendors was a company called The Produce. Later in 2022, the owner of The Produce was indicted in the Feeding Our Future case. The Feds allege that The Produce worked with both Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition.

Even though Gar Gaar was denied entry into CACFP as a program sponsor, a number of Gar Gaar’s member nonprofits did participate in the program, under the sponsorship of Partners in Nutrition, including SCRS.

Some of these CACFP locations have invoices pending that MDE is refusing to pay. In addition to Gar Gaar’s lawsuits, some of these CACFP locations are seeking reimbursement through a separate lawsuit filed by Partners in Nutrition against MDE.

Gar Gaar’s COO, Priya Morioka, attended the appeal hearing this week. She had served on Gov. Tim Walz’ workforce development board from December 2019 until the end of September 2022, according to records on file at the state Department of Employment and Economic Development.

The appeals court has 90 days to decide the case.