Drazkowski Calls Out Walz Failure in $250 Million Fraud
Walz team ignored laws in handling scandal
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In the spring of 2020, Gov. Tim Walz and Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller were made aware of fraudulent activity involving a child food aid program here in Minnesota. This fraud went on for over a year, with $250 million intended to feed hungry children stolen from taxpayers.
Eventually, this criminal activity became breaking news in January 2022 as the largest fraud scheme in Minnesota history.
This raises the question, what did Gov. Walz and his administration do to stop this fraud when they learned about it in the spring of 2020?
We’ve heard conflicting explanations from the Walz administration about what they did. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) said they alerted the U.S. Department of Agriculture about the fraud and asked them to get involved. Gov. Walz himself has changed his story multiple times. First, the governor said he heard about the fraud in the spring of 2020. More recently he has claimed he only learned about it in November 2020.
Regardless of the Walz administration’s excuses, we know for a fact that they broke the law and totally failed to safeguard our tax dollars.
Minnesota Statute 3.971 (Subd. 9) requires state agencies and officials to “promptly” alert the Office of the Legislative Auditor if they believe public money is being used for unlawful purposes. Despite this law, Walz, MDE and Mueller never notified the legislative auditor about this massive fraud they first learned about in 2020.
The Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) is wholly equipped and designed to investigate the misuse of public funds. The OLA has subpoena authority and law enforcement power to fully investigate corruption. If Walz and his administration had promptly notified the OLA about this fraud, as required by law, the OLA could have stepped in and stopped this $250 million scheme before it got out of hand. Instead, the Walz administration allowed an unprecedented crime to be committed against Minnesota.
In an Oct. 12 letter to Rep. Steve Drazkowski’s office, the legislative auditor specifically stated that they only learned about this $250 million food fraud when it was reported in the news in January of 2022. On top of that, the OLA said that they have no record of Walz or the Department of Education contacting them about the misuse of public funds regarding this matter.
In their letter, the OLA also informed Drazkowski that the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) claimed that they had contacted the OLA about the food fraud in March of 2021. In response to this claim, the legislative auditor’s staff carefully combed through their phone records and their “robust” system for tracking allegations. The OLA found no record of MDE or the Walz administration reaching out to them regarding this fraud.
The Walz administration broke the law by not promptly informing the OLA about the food fraud. Now, they are attempting to cover this up by lying to the OLA and the people of Minnesota. Even if the Walz administration’s claim about contacting the OLA in March of 2021 were true, it would still mean they waited nearly a year before reporting this fraud to the OLA. This inaction allowed the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ funds. It is unacceptable and the people of Minnesota deserve answers.
In this case, Minnesota public officials paid claims to an organization that they knew to be fraudulent. Minnesota Statute 609.455 makes such conduct illegal with a criminal penalty of five years’ imprisonment, a $10,000 fine or both.
Gov. Walz needs to answer for his conduct and the conduct of his administration. Furthermore, the media has a responsibility to put these questions to the governor in a serious manner and to demand answers.
Gov. Walz was either asleep at the switch, or he knowingly allowed a historic scheme to be perpetrated against our state. There is no question that the Walz administration broke the law.
We need answers.
Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, is a member of the Minnesota House. Mark Koran, R-North Branch, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.