(The Center Square) – A lawsuit in the Ramsey County Second Judicial Court claims Minnesota Department of Education employees “deleted large amounts of data and intentionally engaged in deceptive practices.”
The education agency sued nonprofit Feeding Our Future over a scheme from May 2020 through January 2022 in which three entities – ThinkTechAct Foundation, Empire Cuisine & Market and Empire Enterprises – collaborated to steal $250 million of Federal Child Nutrition Program money meant to feed hungry children and instead spent it on luxury cars, homes, and more.
In the lawsuit, FOF claims MDE violated federal and state law.
The lawsuit alleges education employees “intentionally mislabeled documents, misspelled words to prevent their conversations from being found through IT searches, and they intentionally refrained from documenting their decisions.”
MDE Director of Communications Kevin J. Burns told The Center Square that the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation.
The lawsuit claims “MDE’s instant message system is replete with examples of MDE employees discussing deleting references to FOF in their documents, misspelling words, and using vague document titles and descriptions to hide the documents from FOF. For illustrative purposes, MDE admitted to removing references to FOF in some documents so they would not be detected in an IT search:”
Defendant and FOF founder Aimee Bock said that MDE is solely responsible for detecting and preventing fraud.
“The federal food program vests sole responsibility for detecting and preventing fraud with MDE,” the lawsuit says. “MDE is a large governmental agency with vast resources including access to the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of Inspector General, and significant experience with risk management and fraud detection and prevention.”
Empire Cuisine & Market received $12 million of FCNP funds.
ThinkTechAct claimed to provide meals to about 160,666 children per day at 10 locations in June 2021. In all, FCNP funds composed more than 99% of total funds deposited into the company’s account
On Monday, The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota today announced federal criminal charges against 10 additional defendants charged across two indictments with charges of conspiracy, wire fraud, money laundering, and bribery.
More than 27 people have been charged in connection to this scheme.