Republican lawmakers hammered the Walz administration Monday for missing at least five clear opportunities to prevent the Feeding Our Future scandal and violating state law along the way.
In a stunning development, Sen. Mark Koran and Rep. Steve Drazkowski released a letter showing the Walz administration never alerted the Office of the Legislative Auditor to the suspected fraud.
The 49 defendants in the case are accused of defrauding the federal Child Nutrition Programs of $250 million. In Minnesota, those programs are administered by the state Department of Education.
Minnesota statutes require state agencies to alert the legislative auditor if they suspect public money is being misspent. However, Legislative Auditor Judy Randall said her office “learned about the alleged fraud when it was first reported in the news in late January 2022.”
“The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) has no record that the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) or Governor Walz notified OLA about the potential misuse of public money,” Randall said in her letter.
“In response to questions, an MDE official told us that they called OLA and notified a staff person (or left a voicemail) about the alleged fraud in ‘mid- to late March, 2021.’ OLA has a fairly robust process for tracking and reviewing allegations, complaints, and agency notifications; we have no record of such a call taking place. Further, we searched our phone records for March 2021, and found no record of the MDE official calling any OLA staff,” she continued.
The fraud allegedly began sometime in May 2020 and MDE officials have said they identified the scheme within a month.
“The Department of Education is trying to retroactively say they contacted the Legislative Auditor when no such call occurred,” said Drazkowski. “The Walz Administration is trying to cover up the fact that they broke the law and were derelict in their duty to protect Minnesota taxpayers. Even if their lie about contacting OLA in March of 2021 were true, that still means they waited nearly a year to notify the OLA.”
This development came shortly after House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt and Deputy Minority Leader Anne Neu Brindley held a press conference outlining the clear opportunities Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison had to prevent the fraud.
“There were five clear examples where Gov. Walz failed to stop the largest fraud scandal in Minnesota history,” Daudt explained. “Gov. Walz and Attorney General Ellison failed to do site visits, failed to demand bank records they were entitled to under state law, and let far too much money out the door after they knew fraud was ongoing. And worse, they’ve lied and dodged questions about it when pressed for basic answers on the timeline and decision-making process. Minnesotans deserve answers about these massive failures that allowed criminals to walk away with $250 million — money the state may never recover.”