Joe Soucheray: Fraud after fraud, precious millions flushed, and precious little accountability in Minnesota

22 June 2024

Does Minnesota have a functioning state government?

The question cannot be unreasonable. Frauds appear and flourish like spring hostas. Food fraud. Frontline worker pay fraud. Medicaid fraud. Potential fraud in the sudden explosion of autism service providers.

The Feeding Our Future food fraud grows more spectacular with each new astonishment revealed in either court or in the legislative auditor’s report on the scandal. According to the legislative auditor’s findings, the food fraud in the fiscal year 2020-21 saw the Minnesota Department of Education’s payments to Feeding Our Future grow by 2,800 percent.

Warren Buffett couldn’t grow anything by 2,800 percent.

In dollars? From $69.6 million to $335.7 million.

That $335.7 million was for all Child and Adult Care Food Program sites across Minnesota. CACFP sites grew by 54 percent in the 2021 CACFP program year.

Ah, but Feeding Our Future CACFP sites more than tripled during the same time. The scam must have been the talk of the street. Vacant storefronts were suddenly said to be the base of operations for feeding thousands and thousands of kids, more kids supposedly fed than exist in Minnesota.

Payments didn’t cool off much in 2022, $320.4 million.

Legislative Auditor Judy Randall was not at all shy in her 121-page report. Inadequate oversight led to continuing opportunities for fraud. The scammers probably couldn’t believe their good luck. Nobody was questioning them! Off to the BMW dealership they went.

People were in charge, but apparently not functioning.

Heather Mueller was Gov. Tim Walz’s pick for education commissioner. Like Walz, Mueller began her career as a social studies teacher in Mankato. Walz appointed her in April 2021. By November 2022, when food fraud money was pouring out of the building and the scandal gaining traction, she resigned. She refused interviews.

Dr. Heather Mueller is listed as a senior consultant at Teamworks Education Leadership Solutions where she is a “skilled leader and strategic thinker.”

OK.

Mueller has been succeeded by Willie Jett, who quickly understood the lay of the land. When Jett was questioned about the legislative auditor’s report, he said, “you’re not gonna hear me place the blame.” He would not say if any Department of Education employees had been disciplined.

“To say we need to come here and place blame or highlight who misstepped,” Jett said, “that’s not right.”

To which the taxpayers of Minnesota say, “Why not?”

Neither Walz nor his people have exhibited any accountability or responsibility for the disappearance of so much money on their watch, with more yet to come as new scandals unfold. Walz did say he “accepts some responsibility for oversight,” but then quickly shifted to meaningless boilerplate babble … “We can always do better … I appreciate the points being made … context matters.”

All meaningless and deflecting.

Nothing suggests Walz and other high-ranking officials should be impeached, as the state constitution allows. They probably did not line their own pockets.

But they certainly have answered the question. Minnesota does not have a functioning state government.

Joe Soucheray can be reached at [email protected]. Soucheray’s “Garage Logic” podcast can be heard at garagelogic.com.

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