Republicans are calling for an investigation into allegations that Gov. Tim Walz’s Department of Education “engaged in deceptive practices” in order to conceal records in a lawsuit related to the Feeding Our Future case.
Aimee Bock, the founder and executive director of the defunct nonprofit, claimed in a court filing last month that the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) “intentionally deleted and hid documents from discovery” when her organization sued MDE in November 2020.
“To hide documents from discovery and from being introduced at trial, MDE intentionally mislabeled documents, misspelled words to prevent their conversations from being found through IT searches, and they intentionally refrained from documenting their decisions,” Bock wrote in a Jan. 31 response to a separate civil lawsuit filed by MDE against Feeding Our Future (FOF) and Bock.
“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,” she added.
Bock is one of 70 defendants charged in an alleged scheme to defraud the federal government of $250 million intended for feeding hungry children during the pandemic. MDE was responsible for overseeing the distribution of these funds. Bock’s organization, Feeding Our Future, is accused of playing a central role in the fraud.
In her court filing, Bock further claimed that MDE employees used “burner phones” and personal emails and cellphones to conduct government business. She also provided what she called “endless examples of MDE employees intentionally misspelling words, adding spaces inappropriately, and otherwise taking affirmative steps to hide their discussions, decisions, and actions.”
“If you spell incorrectly it’s harder to see arch for stuff,” an MDE employee allegedly wrote in one message.
“MDE also intentionally referred to FOF as ‘F’ to avoid their discussions and actions being found on document searches,” Bock, who is representing herself in the case, wrote in the filing. “MDE developed a systemwide practice of hiding its documents and decisions by engaging in deceptive practices.”
These actions, Bock alleges, were carried out in violation of Minnesota’s Data Practices Act, which grants the public the right to view and obtain certain government data. Bock has also lodged several counterclaims against MDE in her new filing.
House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, called for an investigation into whether MDE “engaged in systematic and potentially illegal efforts to evade compliance with the Minnesota Data Practices Act.”
“The disturbing allegations raised in recent court filings suggest that the Minnesota Department of Education may have broken state law in an attempt to cover-up documents related to the Feeding our Future fraud scandal,” Demuth said. “These are serious allegations that should be fully and independently investigated; if any MDE employee is found to have purposefully engaged in covering-up these documents, they should be fired immediately. Minnesotans need to know the full story about MDE’s involvement in the largest fraud scandal in state history.”
Demuth said Republicans have asked the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) to review the allegations in Bock’s court filing. The OLA is already conducting a special review of MDE’s oversight of Feeding Our Future.
Alpha News reached out to MDE for comment but did not receive a response in time for publication. A spokesperson told KARE 11 that Bock’s claims are “simply the latest example of her abusing the court system to deflect attention from her own misconduct.”
In response, Bock amended her counterclaim to include MDE’s statement, describing it as “false, intentionally slanderous, and malicious, and part of MDE’s continuous campaign to harm Bock and inflict emotional distress.”
The Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence said Bock’s allegations are “nothing short of jaw-dropping” in a recent post on its website.
“Bock claims that the Minnesota Department of Education purposely deleted and hid documents from discovery and therefore from being introduced at trial, and has engaged in a systemwide practice to hide its discussions, decisions, and actions,” the organization said.
“This would be easy to dismiss as nothing more than an attempt at legal obfuscation from someone who is clearly in a whole lot of trouble. But looking at the examples the filing includes to support these claims, it is difficult not to see clear intent by department staff with regard to these actions.”