The alleged Feeding Our Future scandal, four weeks in. The game behind the game.

It’s been exactly four weeks since 200 officers executed FBI search warrants at the St. Anthony offices of the nonprofit Feeding Our Future and related sites. Not one person has been arrested or charged in the alleged scandal.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune popped back on the grid last night with a story outlining the criminal histories of two of the alleged fraudsters named in those search warrants. The point of the Star Tribune piece is that neither Feeding Our Future nor the state Department of Education (MDE) conducted any background checks on participants in their free food programs.

The former conducted no checks because of the potential for unfairness. Feeding Our Future CEO Aimee Bock is quoted as saying,

Please remember that one of the reasons Feeding our Future has been successful is because we keep the federal dollars in the local community. Many of the young black men in our state have records, but when given a chance they have shown that their past does not define their future or even their present.

The latter didn’t check backgrounds because federal rules for the free food programs do not explicitly allow for them. MDE had previously been slapped down by a state judge for imposing additional program requirements not found in federal program guidelines.

The latest Star Tribune story goes into detail on three private food companies named in FBI search warrants: Empire Cuisine, Safari Restaurant, and S&S Catering. At one time, all three had been vendors to Feeding Our Future and all three previously hosted sites for direct food distribution. From the Star Tribune,

Though Bock said she never saw evidence of fraud among her subcontractors, she acknowledged in a recent e-mail that she terminated Empire’s contract in 2021 at one of its sites because of concerns over “poor service delivery.”

Empire Cuisine is also listed as a vendor to another nonprofit network, Partners in Nutrition (d/b/a Partners in Quality Care), which was also suspended by the Department of Education along with Feeding Our Future last month.

The deeper you dig, the more connections you find. Empire Cuisine was formerly a vendor to an East African Healthcare Network site, when it was still a member of the Partners in Nutrition network. It has since spun off to become its own multi-million-dollar program sponsor.

In the years-long battle between MDE and the nonprofits Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition, the state agency has scored one minor victory. It eliminated the ability of private restaurants to act as distribution sites for the free-food programs. In the table below, the largest individual (non-school) distribution sites for the summer of 2020 are shown:

As you can see, three of the largest sites were private restaurants. To be clear, only Safari and Olive Management from the above list were mentioned in the FBI search warrants. Fast-forward to the current roster, and only three sites would have made the previous top ten.

Comparing the two lists, only Shamsia Hopes appears on both. This charity’s efforts were profiled in the Sahan Journal in May 2021. To be clear, none of the six names above were mentioned in the FBI search warrants.

Old players may drop out, new players may arrive, names change, and locations move. But one thing is constant: more and more taxpayer money goes to fuel the free-food industry.