Lawyer blames other defendants in case jury was handed a bag of $120,000 in cash

Two of seven defendants facing a federal fraud trial in Minnesota, where a juror was allegedly offered a bribe in exchange for an acquittal, flouted a court mandate to turn over a list containing the suspect’s personal information. jury, said the lawyer for one of the defendants. alleged.

All defendants, their attorneys and prosecutors had access to the list, which was provided by the court in April when the trial over alleged misuse of Covid relief funds began, officials said.

The judge had demanded that the defendants turn over their jury lists once jury selection was complete at the end of April. But two of the defendants did not do so, Andrew Mohring, one of the lawyers representing defendant Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, said in a court filing Thursday.

He indicated that the numbering associated with the two missing lists did not match the lists given to his client’s defense team.

Shariff and his attorneys returned their jury lists, Mohring said, adding that his client “in no way wrote down or recorded the name of any juror.”

A spokesperson for the U.S. District Court in Minnesota upheld the warrant to return the lists, but declined to comment on Mohring’s request.

The seven defendants are accused of embezzling millions of dollars intended to feed children during the pandemic. The other accused are Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Said Shafii Farah, Abdiwahab Maalim Aftin and Hayat Mohamed Nur.

Steve Schleicher, an attorney representing Said Shafii Farah, said his client and his team returned their jury lists. None of the attorneys for the other defendants responded to requests for comment.

Feeding Our Future offices in St. Anthony, Minnesota.Shari L. Gross/Star-Tribune via AP

The federal fraud trial, which began April 22, is the first in a so-called $250 million Covid relief package that prosecutors say is the largest of its kind.

From April 2020 to January 2022, according to a criminal complaint, the defendants collectively received more than $40 million from the federal Child Nutrition Program, intended to provide free, nutritious meals to low-income children and families.

While the defendants claimed to have fed millions of children with the funds, prosecutors said they used most of the money to purchase several homes, properties and luxury vehicles.

The defendants face multiple criminal charges, including conspiracy, wire fraud, federal bribery schemes and money laundering.

The trial lasted six weeks. More than 30 witnesses tested.

On the eve of deliberations Sunday evening, a juror said a woman delivered a gift bag filled with cash and left it with a relative, according to an FBI search warrant affidavit. The names of the jurors have not been made public, but the visitor knew the woman’s first name and told his relative that there would be “more gifts tomorrow” if the juror agreed to vote not guilty, the report said. affidavit.

On Monday, after the juror reported the alleged bribe attempt to the court and police and was dismissed from trial, U.S. District Judge Nancy Brasel ordered the defendants to surrender their cellphones and all seven were taken into custody.

In a detention order filed Thursday, Brasel said it was “likely” that at least one defendant was involved in the bribe attempt.

In the court filing, Shariff’s lawyer requested his client’s release while the sequestered jury continued its deliberations until Friday. It is clear whether this request was answered. Shariff’s defense team did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday.

On Tuesday, Frederick Goetz, another lawyer for Shariff, told NBC News that his client “had absolutely no part in it.”

The FBI said its investigation into the alleged bribe attempt was ongoing and declined to provide or confirm further information. The agency said it was “present” in Savage, Minnesota, on Wednesday, “conducting court-authorized law enforcement activities.” At least three of the defendants purchased homes in Savage, according to a superseding indictment.

Shariff’s home was not part of the FBI search this week, his lawyer wrote in the court filing.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota declined to comment on the jury tampering investigation.

Bribery of a juror is a crime punishable by significant prison time, including a statutory maximum of 20 years in some cases, Brasel said.

The seven defendants are among 70 people charged by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota in connection with a massive fraud scheme involving the nonprofit organization Feeding Our Future. Eighteen pleaded guilty, officials said.

Feeding Our Future was a participating sponsor of the Federal Child Nutrition Program. Prosecutors said the nonprofit’s employees recruited people and entities to open federal child nutrition program sites throughout Minnesota. Feeding Our Future went from receiving and disbursing about $3.4 million in federal funds in 2019 to nearly $200 million in 2021, prosecutors said.

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