Feds search for person who left $120,000 bag with promise to get more with food fraud juror

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota authorities have confiscated cellphones and taken all seven defendants into custody as investigators try to determine who tried to bribe a juror with a bag of cash containing $120,000 to get him to acquit them. theft charges More than $40 million from a program to feed children during the pandemic.

The case went before the jury Monday afternoon, after the 23-year-old juror, who immediately reported the bribe attempt to police, was fired and replaced with a replacement. She told court officials that a woman dropped the bag off at her home and offered her more money if she voted to accept. She said a woman left it with her father-in-law on Sunday with the message that she would receive another bag of money if she voted to acquit, according to a report in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

A second junior was fired Tuesday morning, KSTP-TV and KARE-TV reported. According to U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel, the juror called her family Monday evening to let them know the jury was sequestered and the family member responded, “Is it because of the bribe?” The juror then reported this conversation to the court, which told her not to tell any other jurors about what she had heard. She was also replaced by a substitute.

“This is completely out of character,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson said in court Monday. “This is scandalous behavior. This is what happens in mafia movies.

Defense barrister Andrew Birrell told the judge the bag of cash was “a disturbing and upsetting accusation”.

FBI spokeswoman in Minneapolis, Diana Freedman, said Tuesday that she could not provide information about the ongoing investigation.

The seven defendants are the first of 70 expected to stand trial in a conspiracy that has cost taxpayers $250 million. Eighteen other people pleaded guilty, and authorities said they recovered about $50 million in one of the cases. the largest pandemic-related fraud cases in the country. Prosecutors say only a fraction of the money went to feed low-income children, while the rest was spent on luxury cars, jewelry, trips and real estate.

During the trial, which began in April, defense attorneys questioned the quality of the FBI’s investigation and suggested it may have been more a case of recordkeeping problems. records than fraud, as these defendants sought to keep up with rapidly changing food aid rules. program.

These seven initial defendants were affiliated with a restaurant participating in the food assistance program. Among those still awaiting trial is Feeding our Future founder Aimee Bock, who has pleaded not guilty and denied any wrongdoing.

Before allowing the trial to continue with closing arguments Monday, Brasel interviewed the remaining 17 jurors and alternates, and none reported unauthorized contact at this point. Brasel decided to sequester the jury for the remainder of the proceedings as a precaution.

“I don’t do this lightly,” Brasel said. “But I want to guarantee a fair trial.”

Brasel also ordered the detention of all seven defendants and ordered an FBI agent to confiscate the defendants’ phones.

The aid money came from the United States Department of Agriculture and was administered by the state Department of Education. Nonprofits and other program partners were supposed to serve meals to the children.

Two of the groups involved, Feeding Our Future and Partners in Nutrition, were small nonprofits before the pandemic, but in 2021 they have paid out about $200 million each. Prosecutors say they produced invoices for meals that were never served, ran shell companies, laundered money, engaged in passport fraud and accepted bribes.

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