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Federally indicted Feeding Our Future leader Aimee Bock is alleging that the Minnesota Department of Education purposely misspelled words and mislabeled and deleted documents to prevent computer searches from revealing them in a civil lawsuit, violating state law.

The Education Department sued Bock, 43, of Apple Valley and the now-defunct Feeding Our Future a year ago, seeking to recoup legal fees after the nonprofit sued the department in 2020 over stopped payments.

Bock — who is charged in the criminal case that prosecutors say totaled more than $250 million, one of the largest pandemic fraud cases in the country — filed new counterclaims last week alleging that employees deleted large amounts of data and "intentionally engaged in deceptive practices" by mislabeling documents and misspelling words to conceal documents from being included in the 2020 case.

A statement from the Education Department on Wednesday said: "Ms. Bock's recent legal claims are simply the latest example of her abusing the court system to deflect attention from her own misconduct. Our attorneys have moved to dismiss her claims, and we feel confident the Attorney General's Office will be successful."

Among examples in Bock's filing:

• One employee mentioned using a burner phone while other employees referenced Feeding Our Future simply as "F."

• In a 2021 message, an employee wrote that they were trying to remove "F references so may not be an I T hit." Another employee misspelled "stop pay" as "stoop pais."

• "If you spell incorrectly it's harder to see arch for stuff," an employee messaged a colleague.

• One employee encouraged a colleague to discuss something over the phone instead of typing it. An employee admitted to deleting a document related to Feeding Our Future, though it's unclear what the document was.

Bock, who is representing herself in the civil case and has denied any wrongdoing in the criminal case against her, is seeking an undisclosed amount in damages for the emotional distress she said the Education Department caused her as well as damages for "tortious interference with business relationships."

Assistant Attorney General Christopher Stafford filed a court notice that the Education Department will seek to dismiss Bock's counterclaims. A hearing is scheduled for April 3.

Aimee Bock, the former executive director of the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, pictured in 2022, is alleging that the Minnesota Department of Education purposely deleted and hid documents to prevent them from being documented in a...
Aimee Bock, the former executive director of the nonprofit Feeding Our Future, pictured in 2022, is alleging that the Minnesota Department of Education purposely deleted and hid documents to prevent them from being documented in a...

Shari L. Gross, Star Tribune

The lengths that government employees allegedly went to in order to thwart public transparency is alarming, said Mark Haveman, executive director of the nonpartisan Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, a tax watchdog group based in St. Paul. He called the allegations "jaw-dropping."

"It raises red flags," Haveman said. "I've never heard of burner phones being used and I've never heard of purposely misspelling things so that, in case a [data practices act] request comes up, it's not going to catch it. ... It just suggests there are things they don't want to come to light and I don't think that exactly serves the purpose of good government."

Attorney Jennifer Urban, who is representing Feeding Our Future, not Bock, said Bock's allegations were a surprise to the organization.

"We're just kind of sitting and watching [Minnesota Department of Education] and Aimee go after one another," Urban said.

State Republicans scrutinized the Education Department's oversight of the meal programs in 2022, holding Capitol hearings questioning officials. The Legislative Auditor's Office is conducting a special review of the Education Department's oversight of Feeding Our Future, which was initially slated for release last summer and is now scheduled to be released in March.

FBI investigation

Bock, her organizations and the Education Department have been entangled in lawsuits for about eight years over federally funded meal programs, which reimburse nonprofits and schools for providing food to low-income children after school or during the summer.

Bock, who is white, has accused the Education Department of discrimination, saying the agency targeted her for "going against the grain" by working with food sites run by immigrants.

Stafford wrote in court documents that "Feeding Our Future intentionally raised false allegations against [the Minnesota Department of Education], including baseless (but sensationalist) accusations of racial bias, and deployed a barrage of frivolous litigation tactics at strategic intervals to frustrate [the department's] oversight."

Now-defunct Feeding Our Future quickly grew to be one of the largest sponsors of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) meal programs in Minnesota, overseeing hundreds of food distribution sites during the pandemic, when federal waivers temporarily loosened in-person monitoring and oversight. The St. Anthony nonprofit went from receiving $300,000 in federal reimbursements in 2018 to more than $197 million by 2021.

The influx drew suspicion from the Education Department, which denied Feeding Our Future's meal site applications and then terminated some meal sites. As a result, Feeding Our Future sued in November 2020.

A judge told the Education Department in April 2021 that he saw no regulation allowing it to stop paying Feeding Our Future and threatened to hold the agency in contempt of court if it didn't act quickly on applications. The Education Department resumed payments to Feeding Our Future but also contacted the FBI to report its concerns after repeated complaints to the USDA.

FBI agents raided the Twin Cities nonprofit Feeding our Future in St. Anthony in January 2022.
FBI agents raided the Twin Cities nonprofit Feeding our Future in St. Anthony in January 2022.

Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

The FBI launched the investigation in May 2021 and raided Bock's home and more than a dozen locations in January 2022. After the FBI raids, Feeding Our Future told the department it would move to dismiss its lawsuit.

Last year, the Education Department sued Bock and Feeding Our Future, seeking to recoup its nearly $600,000 in legal fees, claiming Feeding Our Future's "sham" 2020 lawsuit was just a distraction to keep the state from uncovering the fraud.

Last week, Bock claimed in her filing that the department's lawsuit is "baseless" and "intended to deflect" from its legal violations. She reiterated her past arguments, including that the department never investigated her nonprofit's claims as being potentially fraudulent. In fact, she credited herself with investigating and denying meal claims for many of the people who have recently pleaded guilty in the criminal case.

She disputed that the Education Department told investigators that no food was served at Feeding Our Future sites, countering that crowds to food sites were so large police were called to do traffic control.

Some defendants who have pleaded guilty to criminal charges have admitted to serving no food, while most have confessed to inflating meal counts.

Criminal case

Bock has pleaded not guilty to the charges filed in 2022. Prosecutors said she received kickbacks as part of a scheme of kickbacks and bribes among associates, who used the money to buy luxury cars and homes instead of feeding children.

In December, her attorney Kenneth Udoibok said in court filings that Bock didn't receive kickbacks and, even if she did receive kickbacks, kickbacks aren't inherently fraudulent or illegal. He said Feeding Our Future charged an administrative fee to its sites, which is legal. He sought a hearing to challenge the facts in the 2022 search warrant.

Of the 70 people charged so far, 17 have pleaded guilty. The first trials are slated to begin this spring.