San Antonio wedding planner sued over Food Box contract with USDA

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San Antonio event planner Gregorio Palomino received a $39.1 million contract from the federal government to feed needy families early in the coronavirus pandemic.

In that lawsuit, Fork and Garden LLC alleges that Palomino and his company, CRE8AD8, entered into a joint venture agreement on the USDA Farmers to Families Food Box program by failing to pay plaintiff half of the profits and making an excessive distribution to himself. alleging a violation of Excessive payments to family members. ”

Fork and Garden is a San Antonio catering and events company co-owned by Chef Iverson Brownell, who partnered with Palomino on the Food Box program.

In a May 2020 interview with Express News, Palomino said Brownell convinced him to bid for the lucrative USDA contract.
The attorneys named in the Palomino, Brownell, and Falk and Garden lawsuits did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit filed in Bexar County District Court this week.
Palomino’s deal calls for CRE8AD8 (pronounced “create a date”) to buy 18 million pounds of food, fill 750,000 boxes of meat, dairy and produce and deliver to seven states by the end of June. food banks and other non-profit organizations. 2020.

In the end, CRE8AD8 fell short by nearly 250,000 boxes, according to USDA records.

The company was paid $31.5 million, about $7.6 million less than the contract granted.
The USDA’s $4 billion Farmers to Families Food Box program, launched by the Trump administration, will help farmers and ranchers distribute unsold meat, dairy and produce to hungry Americans after the coronavirus pandemic paralyzes the economy. It was intended to help redirect to .

An email obtained by Express-News from the USDA indicates that several issues occurred during the CRE8AD8 contract period from May 15th to June 30th, 2020. step.
Agribusiness officials such as the San Antonio Food Bank expressed concern about the lack of experience and facilities in large-scale distribution of CRE8AD8.

A survey by Express-News found that Palomino boasted about clients such as USAA, Valero Energy, Fiesta San Antonio and the North Dakota Department of Transportation, who said they never worked with him. increase.

The investigation also found that he cited unobtained professional qualifications and advertised business partnerships that could not be verified.
Brownell’s business record was also called into question amid concerns about his contract with the USDA. He defaulted on more than $360,000 of his debt in South Carolina in 2011 and filed for personal bankruptcy, according to court records.
“I did nothing inappropriate with my business,” Brownell wrote in an email to Express-News in May 2020. Business, the public records I am waiting for. ”

In an email on May 29, 2020, Palomino provided USDA with a spreadsheet listing 28 nonprofits that will be delivering the boxes. The first 22 were food banks affiliated with the Feeding America Food Bank Network.

The San Antonio Food Bank, which was due to receive 108,000 boxes, topped the list. Houston Food Bank came in second with 72,000.

However, the San Antonio Food Bank received only 26,617 boxes. Food bank president and CEO Eric Cooper said he has barely enough to meet demand for a week during the pandemic.
Houston received even fewer boxes: 23,832.
Houston Food Bank President and CEO Brian Greene said in December 2021, “It was a great disappointment to work with CRE8AD8.
Palomino told USDA that 504,000 of the 516,150 boxes expected to be delivered in the first two weeks will go to Feeding America’s food banks.
In the end, he delivered only 176,571 boxes to those food banks.
In October 2021, a congressional report investigating the government’s coronavirus response by a House subcommittee accused CRE8AD8 of blaming San Antonio Food Banks for delivering spoiled food, wet and crumbling boxes, and unsafe temperatures. said he had filed a complaint about the food that was served.

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Twitter: Tom Orsborn

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