EXCLUSIVE: Firm staffed with former Walz education commissioner received lucrative government contract

During Mueller's tenure with MDE, a series of fraudsters allegedly perpetrated one of the largest fraud schemes in state history by stealing federal funds MDE was charged with overseeing.

Former MDE commissioner Heather Mueller/Minnesota Department of Education

In 2023, an education consultancy firm staffed with a former Walz commissioner received a government contract worth up to almost $400,000 from the Minnesota Department of Corrections (DOC).

TeamWorks International, Inc. has operated in Minnesota since 1995. The firm contracts with school districts and other government agencies to assist in helping those organizations meet certain educational goals.

Former Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) commissioner Heather Mueller is currently a “Senior Consultant” with TeamWorks, having joined the firm in January of 2023.

Just two months after Dr. Mueller left MDE and joined TeamWorks, the consulting firm secured a lucrative state government contract to develop a plan for improving the DOC’s educational offerings for incarcerated individuals. The contract’s term runs from March 7, 2023 to June 30, 2025.

The total value of that contract is $397,600. To date, DOC has paid Teamworks $296,900.29.

Alpha News reached out to DOC and TeamWorks to inquire about the contract and its bid process.

DOC informed Alpha News that there was a competitive bid process for the contract. In short, two organizations, TeamWorks and Alliant Consulting, responded to a public “request for proposal” (RFP) notice posted by the DOC. In that RFP, the DOC sought “consulting services to complete an assessment of current state and future readiness to advance adult basic education, career technical education, and higher education within the state’s correctional facilities.”

The two consulting firms submitted applications, but TeamWorks was eventually selected.

A spokesperson with DOC said that TeamWorks was selected because the firm has a “documented experience working with public sector agencies, specifically in the education space” and has previously worked with large school districts and other Minnesota state government agencies.

“TeamWorks International was the highest scored responder to the RFP,” the spokesperson said. “TeamWorks was instrumental in the planning and development of a comprehensive plan for the DOC’s Education Unit, including assisting with the implementation of the US Department of Justice consent decree around accessibility and accommodations, and advancing readiness for post-secondary federal Pell funding partnerships with MN State Colleges and Universities.”

Alpha News also reached out to TeamWorks to inquire about Dr. Mueller’s involvement in securing the government contract.

However, TeamWorks’ owner and principal consultant, Dr. Ray Queener, did not specifically address whether Mueller herself helped win that contract. Instead, the TeamWorks owner simply said, “TeamWorks has a consistent owner driven process for the development and submission of all proposals for organizations and potential clients.”

Regarding the competitive bid process, Dr. Queener echoed DOC, saying TeamWorks responded “to an open request for proposals.” The TeamWorks owner also told Alpha News that “TeamWorks is a highly respected company with expertise in organizational analysis and change.”

Prior to her role with TeamWorks, Dr. Mueller served as MDE commissioner from April 2021 to January of 2023. In addition to leading the state government agency, Dr. Mueller also worked as the department’s deputy commissioner and assistant commissioner after first starting with MDE in 2019.

During Mueller’s tenure with MDE, a series of fraudsters allegedly perpetrated one of the largest fraud schemes in state history by stealing federal funds MDE was charged with overseeing.

According to authorities, roughly $250 million of federal funds were stolen when dozens of individuals allegedly abused two federal child nutrition programs that MDE was entrusted to operate. A nonprofit called Feeding Our Future was at the center of the alleged fraud which purportedly occurred between 2020 and 2021.

In January of 2022, the U.S. Justice Department raided the offices of Feeding Our Future. By September of the same year, the federal government began issuing indictments. In total, 70 individuals have been indicted. So far, 18 people have pled guilty, five have been convicted, and two others were found innocent.

A recent report from the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) found that “MDE’s inadequate oversight of Feeding Our Future created opportunities for fraud.” Furthermore, “MDE did not effectively exercise its authority to hold Feeding Our Future accountable to program requirements.”

“There’s not a single state employee that was implicated in doing anything that was illegal. They simply didn’t do as much due diligence as they should have,” Gov. Tim Walz said in response to the report. “So, there’s been leadership changes in these organizations since that time, and we have new leadership in since the certainly over at the Department of Education.”

While the alleged fraud reportedly started before Dr. Mueller led MDE, much of it appears to have occurred during her tenure as deputy commissioner and commissioner. In September 2022, former Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller called on Mueller to resign for what he described as “dishonest” statements she made about her agency’s efforts to prevent the fraud.

Dr. Mueller left MDE in January of 2023 and joined TeamWorks the same month.


Luke Sprinkel

Luke Sprinkel previously worked as a Legislative Assistant at the Minnesota House of Representatives. He grew up as a Missionary Kid (MK) living in England, Thailand, Tanzania, and the Middle East. Luke graduated from Regent University in 2018.