MINNEAPOLIS – The City of Minneapolis has arbitrarily and illegally awarded significant public funds to violence prevention programs, claims a new lawsuit filed in Hennepin County on Thursday.
The lawsuit filed by Minneapolis resident and attorney Zachary Coppola was spurred by his concern over the city’s procurement practices after the Feeding Our Future fraud involving hundreds of millions in improperly awarded public funds came to light.
The 35-page complaint states that Coppola became concerned that the city was awarding violence prevention contracts “in similarly questionable ways,” and he began to investigate whether the city “suffered from the same type of problems that plagued Feeding Our Future.”
Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody in May 2020, several Minneapolis City Council members at the time embarked upon efforts to “defund” the Minneapolis Police Department. Some of those efforts included funneling and allocating money to various non-profits and community groups for so-called “violence interrupter” activities organized initially under the Office of Violence Prevention (OVP), which was later renamed as Neighborhood Safety under the Office of Community Safety. Other funding initiatives were in place prior to the events of 2020 and included a program that has been in operation since 2017 called Group (Gang) Violence Intervention (“GVI”).
“The primary funding source for contracts awarded under the GVI … is the Federal Government. Specifically, most of the money comes from the city’s grant under the American Rescue Plan Act. Additionally, part of the funding comes from the City’s General Fund,” the complaint explains.
Coppola filed multiple requests under the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act (MGDPA) to gather information on the fund distribution practices and details of contracts procured by the department of Neighborhood Safety/OVP. The complaint lists a litany of data requests made that were not fulfilled or had information withheld by the city.
In some instances, the complaint states that the city failed to adequately fulfill Coppola’s data requests under the law. In regard to other requests, the complaint states that the “city’s stonewalling not only took a repeated pattern, but the city made misrepresentations to Coppola concerning his data requests and then resorted to silence when called out on those misrepresentations.”
Based on data gathered, Coppola alleges in the complaint that violence prevention contracts are “replete with apparent conflicts of interest.” In one case, Coppola found that the founder and sole employee of Cause and Effect, an organization that has received multiple violence prevention contract awards, is a city employee.
The complaint states that many of the violence prevention programs are also improperly using federal public funds. The complaint cites the example of One Family One Community, an organization that has received at least $175,000 in funds from the city. The organization operates a lobbyist association named the Community Housing Development Coalition, which lobbies the city on issues related to housing, public safety, transportation, and human services. In other words, the city is “paying a lobbyist to lobby the city,” the lawsuit says. Coppola states through the complaint that “not only is this a conflict of interest, but all federally funded violence prevention contracts expressly prohibit the use of funds for lobbying or political activities, so this use of federal funds is illegal,” he alleges.
Not mentioned in Coppola’s complaint, Crime Watch Minneapolis posted in September that Trahern Pollard, who is the founder of We Push for Peace, an organization that has received over $2 million in funds from the City of Minneapolis for “violence interrupter” activities, has formed a new LLC through which he is pursuing to acquire the embattled Merwin Liquors in north Minneapolis at the intersection of West Broadway and Lyndale avenues north. Pollard’s new venture, TXT LLC, seeks to acquire tobacco and liquor licenses to continue sales operations at Merwin Liquors, a move Crime Watch and others have implied is a clear conflict of interest to his city-funded violence interrupter activities as well as a possible indicator that money being doled out under the city’s Neighborhood Safety program isn’t being properly tracked or measured for accountability or measures of success.
Pollard’s group, We Push for Peace, had taken over staffing and operations at Merwin Liquors after Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison threatened in September 2022 to file a civil suit against the business, and adjacent Winner Gas, for what he called “public nuisance” conditions of gun violence and open air drug bazaars at the locations.
Crime Watch also discovered that Pollard’s son, Trahern Pollard Jr., who was working at Merwin Liquors on behalf of We Push for Peace, was charged with third-degree assault on another employee of We Push for Peace while both parties were working on site at Merwin Liquors in December 2022.
On Thursday last week, the Minneapolis City Council’s Business, Inspections, Housing & Zoning Committee approved Trahern Pollard’s request for a liquor license, via his new TXT LLC, for Merwin Liquors. Among those voting to approve was Ward 5 Council Member Jeremiah Ellison, in whose ward Merwin Liquors is situated.
Coppola’s lawsuit does not seek monetary damages apart from legal fees, but instead seeks to “change the city’s behavior and prevent illegal procurement awards for the benefit of the public.” Specifically, the lawsuit asks that contracts awarded pursuant to the alleged illegal procurements be void and unenforceable, and that the programs be suspended “before more public funds are improperly spent.”
Coppola states through the complaint that based on the little data provided by the city as a result of his requests, the city “failed to put in place even the most basic competitive bidding or proposal evaluation procedures, resulting in an arbitrary and capricious procurement process.”
“The city has improperly, arbitrarily and capriciously — and therefore illegally — awarded significant public funds to violence prevention programs,” the complaint says.
The Minneapolis City Attorney’s Office provided the following statement to media regarding the complaint:
“While the City is still reviewing the verbose Complaint, it is clear that it is not alleging that the City engaged in any sort of criminal behavior. 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. 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.”
According to the complaint, the city has 21 days to respond to the allegations contained in the lawsuit.
Minnesota Crime Watch & Information publishes news, info and commentary about crime, public safety and livability issues in Minneapolis, the Twin Cities and Greater Minnesota.
This article originally appeared at Alpha News and was reprinted with permission.