Lawsuit: Minneapolis grant allocation to violence prevention programs 'illegal'

A lawsuit filed this week in Hennepin County District Court alleges the process the city of Minneapolis uses to award violence prevention program grants is illegal.

The suit was filed by Zachary Coppola, a Minneapolis lawyer who — according to the complaint — “became concerned over the City’s procurement practices after the ‘Feeding Our Future’ scandal revealed that hundreds of millions of public dollars had been improperly awarded to unqualified recipients who promised to feed hungry children during the COVID pandemic and instead absconded with those funds when those programs and expenditures were not properly monitored.”

The complaint alleges the city used an “arbitrary and capricious” method to select recipients — some of whom had ties to the city — of millions of dollars worth of federally funded grants.

And it accuses the city of violating the state’s data practices law by allegedly stonewalling his attempts to get public information on how grant money was allocated. 

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The nearly three-dozen page complaint contains examples of what Coppola alleges are violations of law. The suit refers to an organization which received $85,000 in 2022 for violence prevention work that was also engaged in political activism and once lobbied state lawmakers to pass a law providing unemployment benefits to high school students during the pandemic. 

“...federally funded contracts prohibit lobbying and political activities, and this use of federal funds is illegal,” states the complaint.

Coppola also alleges that in another case the founder of a group which received more than $185,000 in violence prevention funds between 2021 and 2023 was also a city council appointed member of the city’s Violence Prevention Steering Committee from 2019 to 2020.  

A city spokesperson said the city is still reviewing the complaint, but adds the suit doesn’t allege that the city engaged in criminal activity. 

“Rather, the Complaint alleges the City engaged in an ‘arbitrary and capricious’ procurement process and cites various alleged conflicts of interest — many of which are subjective and are not actual conflicts of interest in a government procurement process,” they said.

“Grants are lawfully awarded to organizations that have proven to do good and well-connected work in the community. Oftentimes, those organizations are run by leaders that have deep ties to the community, and many times work for various community-facing entities. There’s nothing criminal or illegal about that.”

The suit asks the court to order the city to produce all the information Coppola requested in multiple data requests and to issue a temporary halt to violence prevention programs receiving funds through the city’s office of Neighborhood Safety and to direct the city to issue new bids for the projects under a “competitive procurement process.”

The complaint also states that Coppola is not trying to shut down the city’s violence prevention efforts.

“Plaintiff has no objection to and, in fact, supports programs that provide alternative means of violence prevention,” reads the complaint.

“Nevertheless, Plaintiff currently has insufficient information regarding the full activities of this contractor and others mentioned in this Complaint and reserves his right to investigate whether their activities have the requisite reasonable relationship to violence prevention.”