Five charged with juror bribe plot in Covid fraud trial

FBI agents raiding Feeding Our Future carry boxes of documents
The FBI raided the Feeding Our Future offices in January 2022 [Getty Images]

Five people have been charged with offering a $120,000 (£94,000) cash bribe to a juror to thwart a conviction in a US pandemic fraud trial.

The unnamed 23-year-old juror reported that she had received a gift bag filled with cash in the closing days of the federal criminal trial in Minneapolis.

"This is stuff that happens in mob movies," Assistant US Attorney Joseph Thompson said earlier this month after the alleged scheme emerged.

Prosecutors have charged 70 people with stealing $250m from federal food programmes during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Among the five charged with bribery are three who stood trial for providing fake names of non-existent children they were claiming to feed and creating a fraudulent paper trail in order to pocket millions of dollars.

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah, Abdulkarim Shafii Farah and Ladan Mohamed Ali have been charged with conspiracy to bribe a juror, bribery of a juror and corruptly influencing a juror.

At a news conference on Wednesday, US Attorney Andrew Luger called the alleged bribery attempt a "chilling attack on our justice system", adding that he was grateful the juror "could not be bought".

Prosecutors say the group targeted the woman because she was the youngest on the panel and "they believed her to be the only juror of colour".

Prosecutors say the money was delivered in a Hallmark gift bag
Prosecutors say the money was delivered in a Hallmark gift bag [DOJ]

The juror was part of a trial over the theft of more than $40m by workers from Feeding Our Future, a now-defunct charity that recieved money from a federal food-aid programme meant to feed hungry children.

Earlier this month, the jury convicted five of the defendants in the embezzlement case, but acquitted two others.

Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah had wanted the juror to convince the rest of the panel that prosecutors were racist so they would acquit the defendants, according to Mr Luger.

The prosecutor said the suspects devised an instruction manual for nobbling the jury under which they would be told: “We are immigrants. They don’t respect or care about us.”

Prosecutors say one of the accused, Ladan Mohamed Ali, who was not charged in the initial plot, flew to Minneapolis from Seattle on 30 May and began tracking the juror's movements before approaching her.

On the night of 2 June, she and another defendant allegedly visited the juror's home and delivered cash to a relative of hers.

They promised the family member that more money would be delivered if she successfully convinced fellow jurors to vote against conviction, prosecutors said.

Bribing a juror is a felony that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in prison.

According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, this is the state's first criminal case of attempting to bribe a federal juror.