Juror Excused In Minneapolis Fraud Case


Imagine you’re a juror in a high-profile trial, and suddenly, a bag of $120,000 cash shows up at your doorstep. Sounds like a plot twist from a mob movie, right? Well, that’s exactly what happened on Monday in one of the most astonishing instances of jury tampering we’ve seen in recent times.

A juror was dismissed after reporting that a woman dropped off a bag of cash at her home, with an offer for even more money if she would vote to acquit seven defendants accused of stealing over $40 million from a pandemic food aid program. “This is completely beyond the pale,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson exclaimed in court. “This is outrageous behavior. This is stuff that happens in mob movies.”

These seven defendants are the first batch of 70 expected to face trial for a conspiracy that cost taxpayers $250 million. This scheme is part of one of the nation’s largest pandemic-related fraud cases. Prosecutors allege that while the defendants were supposed to use the funds to feed low-income children, the money instead went to luxury cars, jewelry, travel, and property. Only a fraction of the funds was reportedly spent on actual meals.

The trial, which began in April, has been contentious. Defense attorneys have argued that the FBI’s investigation was flawed and that any discrepancies might be due to record-keeping issues rather than fraud. However, the evidence presented tells a story of deliberate deceit.

The juror who received the cash bag was not home at the time, but her father-in-law was. He reported that the woman promised a second bag of cash for a not-guilty verdict. They immediately reported the incident to the police, turning over the cash. Consequently, the juror was dismissed, and the jury was sequestered for their safety. All seven defendants’ phones were confiscated.

Judge Nancy Brasel, overseeing the case, ensured to question the remaining jurors and alternates, and thankfully, none reported any other unauthorized contacts. Despite the defense attorney Andrew Birrell calling the cash drop a “troubling and upsetting accusation,” the trial continued with additional closing arguments. The judge decided to detain all seven defendants pending the verdict.

The roots of this case go deep. The funds in question came from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and were meant to provide meals for children during the pandemic. Nonprofits like Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition, which were relatively small before the pandemic, distributed massive amounts of money—around $200 million each in 2021.

Prosecutors have laid out a complex web of fraud involving fake meal invoices, shell companies, money laundering, and even passport fraud. One nonprofit, Somali Community Resettlement Services, which aimed to support Somali refugees, became embroiled in the scandal by sponsoring sites that claimed to serve thousands of meals daily, for which they received millions in reimbursements. The nonprofit saw a dramatic increase in revenue during the pandemic, enough to purchase a historic mansion in Minneapolis.

Representative Hodan Hassan, who recently withdrew two bills that would have granted millions to the Somali nonprofit, has not commented on the case, but her legislative actions are under scrutiny as evidence links the nonprofit to the Feeding Our Future fraud.

The defendants on trial this week are connected to Empire Cuisine & Market, a Shakopee halal market that enrolled in the federal program in April 2020. Evidence shows they used the federal money for personal luxuries instead of feeding children. One of the largest fraudulent claims was at the Dar Al-Farooq mosque in Bloomington, where the defendants allegedly served nearly 2 million meals, resulting in $4.9 million in reimbursements.

This case is a sobering reminder of how quickly opportunists can exploit emergency relief programs. As the trial unfolds, the repercussions of this massive fraud are becoming clearer, showing the lengths to which some will go for personal gain, even at the expense of hungry children. Stay tuned, folks, because this story is far from over.

The feds are seeking the woman who allegedly dropped off the bag of money.


Add New Playlist