Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison is asking the court to supervise the dissolution of Feeding Our Future as his office and federal authorities continue to investigate alleged fraud involving the nonprofit.
Federal authorities are looking into Feeding Our Future for its alleged misuse of federal grant funds. The FBI has indicated it believes the nonprofit was the key player in a fraud scheme in which millions of federal dollars meant to be used on meals for low-income children were instead used to buy "luxury" personal items, such as real estate and cars.
And on Thursday, Ellison confirmed the Minnesota Attorney General's Office (AGO) is also investigating the nonprofit for potential violations of the state's nonprofit and charities laws. As part of this, he filed a petition in Dakota County District Court to supervise the disbanding of the nonprofit, which Feeding Our Future announced last week.
Ellison said federal authorities are the right people to ensure federal grants are used properly and to prosecute the misuse of federal taxpayer funds, but it's his job as attorney general "to supervise charities and their leaders to ensure they are complying with civil charities laws and upholding Minnesotans’ trust."
"Court oversight of Feeding Our Future’s dissolution will allow greater transparency into the organization’s finances and prevent any future fraud or misuse of assets while the investigations continue," Ellison said.
Ellison's office sent a civil investigative demand to Feeding Our Future on Feb. 8, Ellison said Thursday, alleging the AGO has "reasonable grounds to believe that Feeding Our Future and its officers and directors have, among other things, failed to properly administer and use assets held for charitable purposes; breached fiduciary duties; failed to comply with statutory requirements for nonprofit corporations; made false and/or deceptive representations in connection with the solicitation of donations; and engaged in charitable solicitation without registration.”
The AGO's investigation is ongoing and Ellison's office hasn't made a formal determination of wrongdoing. Meanwhile, the U.S. Attorney's Office filed a civil lawsuit seeking civil forfeiture of 14 properties tied to the FBI's investigation. However, no one has been arrested or criminally charged in connection to the federal investigation, as of Feb. 25.
"The conspirators received tens of millions of dollars in federal funds for use in providing nutritious meals to underprivileged children and adults. Almost none of this money was used to feed children," the U.S. Attorney's Office lawsuit states.
Ellison says he is asking the court to supervise Feeding Our Future's voluntary dissolution to protect "against fraud in the disposition of the assets of the dissolving corporation," the AGO's petition states.
“The AGO seeks court supervision to protect against potential fraud and waste, ensure proper oversight over the corporation pending dissolution, reduce potential harm to the corporation’s interests that could result from having an officer who is the subject to a criminal investigation directing its affairs, provide for the orderly disposition of assets, and minimize prejudice to the Attorney General’s ongoing investigation," the petition notes.
If the court grants the petition, Ellison says it will add another layer of accountability and visibility over Feeding Our Future's dissolution and the disposition of its assets, as well as allow the court to take steps to protect the nonprofit's assets.
The attorney general is asking anyone with information about Feeding Our Future to file a complaint online here or call the office at 651-296-3353.
So what happened?
Feeding Our Future said last week it was disbanding, citing "negative media reports" and inaccessible funds as key reasons for its dissolution. (The FBI has frozen all of the nonprofit's assets as part of the investigation.)
Inklings of suspect behavior first came to light in spring of 2021 via the Pioneer Press and Sahan Journal. But the federal probe only made headlines on Jan. 20, 2022, when FBI agents executed search warrants at three Twin Cities locations, including Feeding Our Future's St. Anthony offices.
That's when the scope of the alleged wrongdoing began to come into focus. Financial records included in related search warrants show the nonprofit's revenue exploded in recent years, going from $3.4 million in 2019 to $42.7 million in 2020, then $197.9 million last year.
Most of that money came from U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, which nonprofits could apply for through the Minnesota Department of Education, the Sahan Journal explains. Feeding Our Future and its partners would then be reimbursed for providing meals to low-income children and adults that qualified for the aid.
The search warrants and civil suit make it clear federal investigators believe that didn't happen, with the documents alleging most of that money was instead spent by various partners on personal belongings: a Porsche, a property in Kenya, a home in Savage, lakefront lots in Prior Lake, and more.
Aimee Bock, executive director of Feeding Our Future, has repeatedly denied wrongdoing (including here to the Star Tribune), and alleges the investigation is retribution after she filed a (recently dropped) civil lawsuit against the Department of Education.
The investigation has since ensnared individuals and organizations throughout the Twin Cities. You can read more about the continuing fallout here.
Shaymus McLaughlin contributed to this report.