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illustration of a shopping bag full of money left at a house's front door

Illustration by iStock, Security Management

Federal Fraud Trial Marred by Attempted Bribe of Juror

On the evening of Sunday, 2 June, a woman carried a shopping bag filled with wads of cash to a Minneapolis-area home and tried to bribe a juror who was sitting for a federal COVID-19 fraud trial.

The juror was not home, so the woman reportedly gave the bag with $120,000 to the juror’s father-in-law with the message that more would come in exchange for a vote to acquit the defendants in the case. Upon learning of what transpired, the juror called the police.

The next day, a federal judge ordered that all seven defendants in the case be arrested and detained on jury tampering allegations. The defendants had been released before standing trial. “There are only seven defendants and only seven people other than their attorneys that have the information to get to a juror and bribe the juror,” the U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel said of the order.

Brasel dismissed the juror, who she described as “terrified,” and that she “remains at risk of retaliation.” The Sahan Journal, which initially broke the story, reported that “she appeared to be the only person of color on the jury.”

The incident came as the trial, which began in April, was coming to a close. After the incident was disclosed on 3 June, the defense made closing arguments and the jury began deliberating the case. Brasel said the attempted bribery led her to reluctantly order the jury to be sequestered for their deliberations.

The seven defendants are accused of stealing more than $40 million of COVID-19 relief funds, which the defendants alleged was for providing meals to children. However, the government said the defendants did not provide this service. It is part of the sprawling, complicated $250 million scheme that has come to be called the Feeding our Future scandal, named for the largest charity that was allegedly involved in the case. Officials have charged at least 70 people from a variety of charities, food service companies, and others in Minnesota in connection with the scheme.

Those charged are accused of exploiting relaxed oversight rules, which were meant to secure needed COVID relief to the public—in this case, feeding children who were at risk. The charities and food service companies allegedly involved a conspiracy to create fake paperwork showing the purchase and delivery of meals that never existed. As the scale of the operation grew, authorities became suspicious and investigated when one community group applied for assistance to support its claimed operation of serving meals to 5,000 children a day, which authorities suspected was an inflated number.

Despite the sequestered jury, one fear is that the bribery attempt will lead to a mistrial, or, if not a mistrial, it could be used as the basis for an appeal if the defendants are convicted.

Also of concern is the fact that there are still dozens of other defendants in several other cases related to the larger $250 million scheme awaiting trial. “The federal government will likely not want to proceed with more trials until the person who allegedly tried to bribe the juror is identified,” the Sahan Journal reported.