Judge disputes Walz account of Feeding Our Future case

Tim Walz speaks
Gov. Tim Walz spoke about Feeding Our Future on Thursday at a news conference about public safety.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

A Ramsey County judge is disputing the way the news media and Gov. Tim Walz are representing his actions in a 2021 court case involving Feeding Our Future, the group at the center of fraud allegations tied to hundreds of millions of dollars of federal money meant to pay for meals for Minnesota school children.

In a statement issued by the Minnesota Judicial Branch late Friday, Judge John H. Guthmann said Walz made “inaccurate statements“ and that he never ordered the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to resume payments to the group after officials suspended the payments in March of 2021. As a result of that suspension, Feeding Our Future filed a motion asking Guthmann to resume payments and order the state to pay sanctions.

Guthmann’s statement says the education department voluntarily resumed payments.

Federal prosecutors this week announced charges against 48 people involved in what they said was a $250 million embezzlement scheme run through Feeding Our Future. Some of those involved are alleged to have used the child nutrition money on jewelry, property and travel.

On Thursday, Walz said he was “speechless” when Guthmann ruled in favor of Feeding Our Future in April of 2021.

“I would hope there would be an investigation into that,” Walz said when asked if Guthmann should resign. 

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On Friday night the governor’s office issued a statement responding to Guthmann.

“Feeding Our Future demanded that MDE make payments, and the court made it clear that if MDE were to continue the legal fight to withhold payments, MDE would incur sanctions and legal penalties,” the statement said. “The court held MDE in contempt for not processing Feeding Our Future applications.”

In June of 2021, Guthmann said in an order that the department was in contempt of court and ordered MDE to pay a sanction of $35,750 to Feeding Our Future.

"MDE cannot divide the application process into pieces and take as long as it wishes at every stage of the process except the last," Guthmann wrote in that order.

Walz has said when the education department was unsuccessful in court, it went to the FBI, which began the process that ultimately led to the criminal charges.

“We caught this fraud. We caught it very early. We alerted the right people. We were taken to court. We were sued. We were threatened with going to jail. We stuck with it,” Walz said on Thursday. “We got the FBI out there, and we have 48 people under indictment. And that's the way it's supposed to work.”

Republicans were quick to point to Guthmann’s statement as evidence that Walz was derelict in responding to the fraud.

The governor’s Republican opponent Scott Jensen said Guthmann “put his career on the line in the defense of truth, justice, and Minnesota children” by calling out what Jensen said were lies.

“While I’ve called for Tim Walz to either fire his Education Commissioner or ask for her resignation, we have moved beyond that,” Jensen said in a statement. “The lies need to stop, and Tim Walz needs to come clean to not only the local media, but every Minnesota child who had to go hungry due to his administration’s incompetence. At this point in time, we need to know: what did Tim Walz know and when did he know it?”