Attorney General Keith Ellison scrambled to defend his oversight of Feeding Our Future after two of his former staff members spoke out in a Star Tribune article published Thursday night.
The article highlights the state’s shortcomings in preventing the fraud and culminates with the analysis of two former senior members of Ellison’s team, both of whom asked to remain anonymous “for fear of retribution.”
The staffers, both Democrats, were “critical of Ellison’s handling of the case,” according to the Star Tribune, saying he could have used his office’s “broad investigative powers” to pull Feeding Our Future’s bank records or launched a probe of his own.
This could have been done before the FBI was alerted in April 2021, nearly a year after the fraud was first detected by Gov. Tim Walz’s administration, they said.
These steps may have prevented the accused fraudsters from stealing the bulk of the $250 million they took from federal programs designed to help feed hungry kids, the staffers told the Star Tribune. Additionally, the bank records would have revealed Feeding Our Future’s bribery and money laundering schemes, the Star Tribune said.
According to the Star Tribune report, the Minnesota Department of Education, which administers the programs locally, never asked Ellison’s office to conduct an investigation. Ellison didn’t launch an investigation until after Feeding Our Future’s offices were raided in January 2022, the Star Tribune added.
Lawmakers revealed last week that the Walz administration never alerted the Office of the Legislative Auditor to the suspected fraud as required by state law.
Both Walz and Ellison provided statements to the Star Tribune but declined interviews. An Ellison spokesperson was critical of the feds for taking so long to issue indictments.
“I want to state clearly: I think the fed govt — DOJ, FBI & others — did an outstanding job of investigating & charging the complex Feeding Our Future fraud. It’s a successful state-federal partnership that I was and am proud to support. Period,” Ellison said in response to the story on Twitter.
He said “hypotheticals” about what his office could have done “ignore complex real-world constraints.”
“Now 12 days before an election, anonymous sources with hidden agendas are Monday-morning quarterbacking this successful partnership that held fraudsters accountable. You can take that perfect political hindsight for what it’s worth — nothing,” he added.
Republicans said Walz and Ellison “failed the people of Minnesota” by not stopping the fraud earlier.
“Meanwhile, Walz’s political ally Keith Ellison also failed to investigate the fraud and could have prevented the ‘bulk of payments’ from going out by doing simple investigative work,” GOP Chair David Hann said. “The fact is that Democrats — who received tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the indicted fraudsters — let criminals steal $250 million meant for needy families and have been lying and dodging the media ever since.”
Retired Twin Cities attorney Greg Pulles has highlighted what he believes are the state’s many missteps in a series of articles for Alpha News.