Trial for pandemic charity fraud disrupted after attempted bribery

A trial involving one of the largest pandemic fraud schemes in the United States has taken an unexpected twist due to an alleged attempt to bribe a juror. The juror reported that a woman dressed in black came to her home and offered her a bag containing $120,000 in cash in exchange for voting to acquit the seven defendants.

This juror was dismissed after disclosing the bribery attempt to the court. The trial is for allegations of the theft of over $40 million from a government-funded food aid program for children. Following the revelation, all seven defendants were taken into custody.

The bribery incident happened just as the jury was about to begin deliberations after one week of jury selection and five weeks of witness testimony. Bribing a juror is a felony that can result in a prison sentence of up to 10 years. The defendants, six men and one woman face a total of 41 charges, including wire fraud and money laundering.

Prosecutors allege that the defendants, all Somali immigrants living in Minnesota, used their charity as a facade to obtain funds from the federal Child Nutrition Program. 

They reportedly fabricated names of non-existent children they claimed to feed and created fraudulent records showing a dramatic increase in numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing them to embezzle millions.

Evidence presented to the jurors showed how the misappropriated funds were allegedly spent on luxury items, including Porsche and Tesla convertibles, a lavish vacation in Dubai, and real estate in Kenya.

The defence has questioned the FBI’s extensive investigation and the reliability of the prosecution’s key witness. However, six of the seven defence attorneys concluded their case without calling any witnesses, while the seventh defendant chose to testify.

With closing arguments approaching, one juror revealed on Sunday night that a woman had dropped off a bag full of cash at their home, attempting to influence the verdict. Jurors in this case have remained anonymous, as is standard practice, but their names and addresses were briefly visible to attorneys and defendants at the trial’s outset.

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