A Ramsey County judge is pushing back against Gov. Tim Walz’s comments that his court ordered the Minnesota Department of Education to restart payments to Feeding Our Future, which is now the subject of the largest alleged pandemic fraud case in the United States.
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Justice charged 48 people in connection with the $250 million scheme to defraud the Federal Child Nutrition Program during the COVID-19 pandemic, including Feeding Our Future CEO Aimee Bock.
Suspicions surrounding the organization grew earlier this year, with the investigation becoming public in January.
MDE became involved in a legal battle with Feeding Our Future in November of 2020 when the organization sued in Ramsey County District Court, claiming the department had failed to act on its more than 140 applications for new food distribution sites.
MDE would later suspend payments to Feeding Our Future over what it called “serious deficiencies.” Walz claimed that the department was ordered by Ramsey County Judge John Guthmann to resume payments.
On Thursday, Walz commented on the ruling, calling it “unbelievable” and that it left him “speechless.” He also suggested there should be an investigation into the decision.
But in a statement issued Friday, Guthmann rebuked those claims. He stated that while he had been assigned to the case in November of 2020, MDE had reached an agreement with Feeding Our Future and agreed to handle the applications “reasonably promptly.”
Guthmann also said MDE voluntarily resumed payments to Feeding Our Future and claimed that the department was never ordered to do so.
In an order issued by Guthmann in June of 2021, Feeding Our Future's motion to end MDE's "stop pay" policy was denied as MDE had already lifted it.
Guthmann also said that MDE advised the court that the serious deficiencies with Feeding Our Future were "resolved."
But the Walz Administration has hit back at Guthmann's remarks.
In a statement the Minnesota Department of Education said that Guthmann "made it clear that if MDE were to continue the legal fight to withhold payments, MDE would incur sanctions and legal penalties."
A copy of the decision issued by Guthmann shows that MDE was found in contempt, with Guthmann ordering MDE to pay Feeding Our Future $35,750 and another $11,750 in attorney's fees.
He ruled that MDE had failed to handle Feeding our Future's applications in a timely manner, therefore finding the department in contempt of the agreement.
MDE took more than 45 days to act on 129 of the applications and more than 80 days to act on 72 of the applications, according to the order.
"Feeding Our Future demanded that MDE make payments, and the court made it clear that if MDE were to continue the legal fight to withhold payments, MDE would incur sanctions and legal penalties," a statement from MDE read.
"The court held MDE in contempt for not processing Feeding Our Future Applications."