Ellison sues former county official over management of veterans charity

State Rep. Rod Hamilton and Attorney General Keith Ellison.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks during a press conference in May 2019. Ellison filed suit against Blake Huffman, a former Ramsey County commissioner, alleging he used a nonprofit he founded to benefit himself and his family.
Tim Nelson | MPR News file

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed suit Monday against former Ramsey County Commissioner Blake Huffman, alleging Huffman used a nonprofit he founded to benefit himself and his family.

Huffman set up Journey Home Minnesota in 2008 with the stated purpose of providing affordable housing to veterans. However at least seven of the organization’s properties have fallen into foreclosure, and the group owes thousands in back taxes, according to the lawsuit.

Journey Home also has been sued by creditors, contractors, and architects for unpaid bills. Reporting by the Pioneer Press found that some of the charity’s clients did not get the homes they’d expected or couldn’t remain in their homes because Huffman changed the terms of their contracts.

In the latest lawsuit, the DFL attorney general claims that Huffman engaged in multiple conflicts of interest and ran Journey Home “largely as a one-man show,” with a hand in its operations, financial affairs, and charitable programming.

According to the complaint, Journey Home bought a property in Shoreview for $149,000 in 2018 from a for-profit company in which Huffman had an ownership interest.

The charity also allegedly solicited tens of thousands of dollars to build a handicap-accessible home for a family with terminally ill children. Ellison says the family never received any of the money and Journey Home abandoned the project before it was finished.

Huffman, a Republican, did not return a call for comment. He resigned from the county board in June after a review found a conflict of interest between his official duties and the charity.

At the time, Deputy County Manager Johanna Berg wrote in a letter to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that Journey Home sold a house to Huffman's son that the nonprofit had purchased with federal money. The HUD funds went through the Ramsey County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, of which Huffman was an ex-officio member. Another of Huffman’s sons served as the real estate agent in the transaction.

Ellison also alleges the charity does not have a functioning board of directors as required by state law and continues to solicit donations even though it has failed to maintain its registration with the attorney general’s office.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.