(FOX 9) - In the wake of nearly 50 federal indictments alleging massive fraud from a Minnesota meal program for children, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) is hoping to recover both money and its reputation.
On Wednesday, the MDE filed a claim against Feeding Our Future (FOF) seeking to recover $583,915 it spent on legal fees fighting what it calls "baseless attacks."
The suit also says that, "in the course of FOF’s fraud, the organization also dragged MDE through the mud."
On Tuesday, US Attorney Andy Luger announced the indictments against Feeding Our Future CEO Aimee Bock and 47 others, accusing them of conspiracy and fraud in taking more than $250-million dollars in federal funding to feed kids.
The indictments say Feeding Our Future sponsored more than 200 meal sites across Minnesota, each claiming to serve thousands of kids every day, but said very few meals were served and most of the kids on the paperwork submitted were simply invented.
"The indictment alleges that there were concerns raised very early on by employees of MDE," said US Attorney Andy Luger on Tuesday. "They got pushback, they got accused of discrimination and ultimately they got sued."
In November of 2020, Feeding Our Future sued the MDE after it didn't approve more than 50 proposed meal sites, some of the applications sitting in limbo for more than two months. Feeding Our Future accused MDE of discrimination. In reality, MDE had suspicions about the rapidly expanding sites very quickly.
But every time MDE tried to regulate Feeding Our Future, it brought another court challenge, with rulings often going against MDE.
After getting little response from other federal agencies, such as the USDA, the department took its concerns to the FBI.
"It was not until MDE reached out to the FBI in April 2021 that MDE"s concerns were taken seriously," the court document says.
But the department says during this time, their reputation took a beating.
"FOF routinely accused MDE of being racist and discriminatory in legal proceedings," reads the court filing. "It also made this accusation outside of court by spreading that pernicious lie in the communities it was pretending to serve."
It also says that because of the FBI investigation, the MDE couldn’t fully defend itself both in court and in public so that FOF wouldn’t be tipped off to impending charges.
But the scrutiny soon became political, too.
In April of 2022, MDE Commissioner Heather Mueller faced questions by a legislative committee who accused the department of lax oversight in allowing millions of federal dollars to go into an alleged fraud. This came after Feeding Our Future was raided by the FBI in January and the investigation first brought to light
"I want to be very clear," Commissioner Mueller testified at the time, "it was our teams diligent monitoring that allowed teams to identify concerns within the program so quickly in the summer of 2020."