MN Dept. of Education v. Feeding Our Future

Many people have asked me to comment on the civil litigation in state court between the state Department of Education (MDE) and the now-defunct free-food charity Feeding Our Future and its founder and former CEO, Aimee Bock.

To untangle the merits of the many claims and counter claims in the case requires reviewing the timeline of events. I did so earlier in this post, I will offer a condensed version today.

Beginning back in 2017, Aimee Bock and her lawyers have run rings around MDE and the state Attorney General’s office, winning at every turn, much to the latter’s embarrassment.

The U.S. Attorney for Minnesota alleges that Bock’s nonprofit was at the center of a $250 million (I calculate the figure at $500 million) fraud that occurred during 2020 and 2021. The fraud involved two Federal free-food programs administered in Minnesota by MDE. To date, some 70 defendants have been charged with Federal felonies.

Humiliated by their litigation losses and their serial failures to prevent a record-breaking fraud, both the Attorney General and MDE have filed separate civil lawsuits in state court against Feeding Our Future.

For her part, Bock has always asserted both innocence and ignorance of the massive fraud taking place within and through her $200 million/yr. operation. The U.S. Attorney has, so far, achieved 17 felony convictions in the case, with an 18th defendant scheduled to plead guilty in April. Bock and other defendants are scheduled to stand trial on criminal charges in Federal court beginning this spring.

On January 31, Bock filed her answer (viewable here) and counter claims in state court against MDE. In this civil lawsuit, she is representing herself, separately from the corporate entity of Feeding Our Future.

Her filing was first noticed by the MN Center for Fiscal Excellence. The Star Tribune and KARE-11 and MPR have written about it, among others.

To summarize, Bock continues to assert her innocence and attempts to shift the blame back on MDE. Further, she makes claims that MDE has hidden and/or destroyed documents related to the case (p. 17, paragraphs 73-84). She portrays herself as the hero of the saga, bravely and selflessly battling corruption against the alternating hostility and indifference of a powerful government agency.

Bock’s counter claims echo the documents included in a series of four mystery packages delivered to the Center’s former office in Golden Valley back in the fall of 2022. The documents reveal the battle for market share among three large free-food nonprofits, and the seeming indifference by MDE to accusations of fraud and misfeasance that the nonprofits traded among themselves. I wrote about these document dumps here and here.

In my view, there is plenty of blame to go around for all parties involved.

In her latest court filing, Bock focuses on two key events in the case, but omits crucial details and context. Shortly after the pandemic began, Feeding Our Future applied to expand its network by adding new food distribution sites. In April 2020, MDE rejected (among others) the applications of six prospective Feeding sites that would be later be named in Federal indictments.

The individual behind three of the six rejected sites has subsequently pled guilty.

After the April 2020 application rejections, Feeding Our Future cried racism and threatened litigation. MDE relented and admitted those six sites to the program.

In October 2020, MDE secretly and unilaterally ejected two of those six sites from the program. In addition, it ejected two other sites, both of which were later named in Federal indictments.

In November 2020, Feeding Our Future filed suit against MDE.

What to conclude? One, that MDE knew who was committing the fraud before they had even committed it. But MDE lacked the courage of their convictions to withstand litigation and racism charges. Two, that Bock should have–at a minimum–done better due diligence of her subcontractors. If you are the CEO and your employees and contractors are convicted of fraud, that’s on you.

MDE has filed a motion to dismiss Bock’s counterclaims. The motion will be heard in state court in April. The case is set for trial in December 2024.