FBI searches defendant’s home after juror was allegedly offered a $120,000 bribe for a not guilty verdict

In a detention order filed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel said it is “likely” that at least one defendant was involved in the bribe attempt.

Federal agents have searched the Minnesota home of at least one of the seven defendants facing a high-profile fraud trial, days after a juror said someone attempted to bribe her with nearly $120,000 in cash in exchange for an acquittal.

The FBI said it conducted “court authorized law enforcement activity” Wednesday in Savage, Minnesota, where, according to a superseding indictment, at least three of the defendants have purchased homes in the last few years.

The seven defendants are accused of misusing millions of dollars meant to feed children during the pandemic. The federal fraud trial, which began April 22, is the first in an alleged $250 million Covid relief scheme that prosecutors say is the largest of its kind.

A bag full of cash.
Cash from a bag that was left at the home of a juror in a fraud case, pictured on June 2 in Minneapolis.U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota via AP

On the eve of deliberations Sunday night, a juror said a woman delivered a gift bag full of cash and left it with a relative, according to an FBI search warrant affidavit. The jurors’ names have not been made public, but the visitor knew the woman’s first name and told her relative that there would “be more of that present tomorrow” if the juror agreed to vote not guilty, the affidavit said.

The juror was dismissed after reporting the alleged bribe attempt to the court and police. A second juror was released Tuesday after a family member brought up the alleged bribe in a conversation.

It’s unclear who offered the juror the bribe. All of the defendants, their attorneys and the prosecutors had access to that juror’s identifying information, officials said.

In a detention order filed Thursday, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel said it is “likely” that at least one defendant was involved in the bribe attempt.

“As the Court sees it, it is more than possible that one of the seven defendants on trial played a role in bribing a juror,” Brasel wrote.

“The actions reported by the juror strike at the heart of the justice system,” the judge added, “and the Court views the sanctity of our jury system as paramount.”

Brasel said bribing a juror is a felony and comes with a substantial term of imprisonment, including a 20-year statutory maximum in certain cases.

The judge ordered the defendants to surrender their cellphones and all seven were taken into custody.

It’s also unclear who was targeted in the FBI’s activity Wednesday and what it may have yielded. Several search warrants were listed in the U.S. District of Minnesota on Wednesday, but none were publicly accessible.

The FBI said the investigation was ongoing and declined to provide or confirm more information. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota declined to comment.

The search comes as the sequestered jury continues deliberating the fate of Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff and Hayat Mohamed Nur. The defendants are facing felony charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, federal programs bribery and money laundering.

Cash from a bag set in a desk.
Cash from a bag that was left at the home of a juror in a fraud case.U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota via AP

Steve Schleicher, an attorney representing Said Shafii Farah, declined to comment. None of the attorneys listed for the other six defendants responded to requests for comment.

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From April 2020 to January 2022, according to a criminal complaint, the defendants collectively received more than $40 million in Federal Child Nutrition Program funds, which were meant to provide free, nutritious meals to children and low-income families.

While the defendants claimed to have fed millions of children with those funds, prosecutors said they used most of the money to buy multiple homes, properties and luxury vehicles.

The defendants were among 70 people charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota in a massive fraud scheme involving the nonprofit Feeding Our Future. Eighteen have pleaded guilty, officials said.

Feeding Our Future was a sponsor participating in the Federal Child Nutrition Program. Prosecutors said the nonprofit’s employees recruited people and entities to open Federal Child Nutrition Program sites throughout Minnesota. Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing about $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021, prosecutors said.

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