Federal Fraud Trial Takes Shocking Turn: Gift Bag of Cash Leads to 5 Convictions

Prosecutors alleged the defendants pilfered millions meant for child nourishment programs. An intriguing twist came when a juror was swapped out after being dangled a $120,000 carrot to sway the verdict.

Joe Thompson, Assistant U.S. Attorney, spearheaded a news presser after the verdicts rocked Minneapolis. His team unveiled the outcomes of the Feeding Our Future fraud case last Friday.

On Friday, a Minneapolis federal jury found five individuals guilty of siphoning off millions from government programs designed to feed children during the pandemic. Notably, two suspects walked free.

This trial, just the first of many lined up, dragged on for six weeks. It wrapped with a bombshell: a juror had allegedly been slid a $120k hush money gift bag. Once realized, officials gave her the boot and ushered in an alternate.

A second juror, clued into the bribe, was also swapped. Court honchos made this clear Tuesday. These six men and one woman in Minnesota faced hefty charges: wire fraud, federal program bribery, and money laundering. In the end, four fellas and one lady got tagged with convictions, some facing up to two decades behind bars.

The accusations were bold: stealing over $40 million from crucial child feeding programs, with the loot getting funneled through a Minneapolis-area nonprofit, Feeding Our Future.

The bagged five were part of a 70-strong group charged with collectively siphoning $250 million from Minnesota’s federal food-aid programs. Prosecutors framed this as one of the biggest swindles ever tackled by the Department of Justice.

Government watchdogs said the accused took advantage of pandemic-era slack oversight, with no one physically checking if kids got their meals. Accused individuals claimed to feed children, sailing only to land the funds. Alas, they swapped out food for fancy assets like crypto, fancy rides, booze, and posh cribs.

In their defense, lawyers hotly argued that the funds genuinely fed the hungry. They poked holes in the credibility of a whistleblower who testified against them.

The defendants, all Somali immigrants aged between 23 to 51, hailed from various Twin Cities locales. Convicts included Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, and Hayat Mohamed Nur.

However, Said Shafii Farah and Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin got off, with their lawyers downplaying their roles in the scheme. After whispers of jury bribery surfaced Monday, Judge Nancy Brasel sequestered the remaining jury to prevent further tampering.

An inquiry into the bribe is ongoing. Tampering with jurors is a grievous felony. A federal judge greenlit the FBI to seize and scrutinize the defendants’ cellphones. In the meantime, the seven remain jailed, awaiting their fates as the jury deliberates.

Ernesto Londoño, based in Minnesota, pens Midwest news and drug policies for the Times. Know more about him. David A. Fahrenthold, an investigative scribe, delves into nonprofit dynamics, reporting steadfastly for two decades. Discover more about David A. Fahrenthold

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