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Five Charged in the Case of a Juror and a Gift Bag Stuffed With $120,000

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Federal prosecutors on Wednesday charged five people with conspiring to bribe a juror in a high-profile federal trial in Minneapolis. The charges described a brazen plot that included extensive surveillance of the juror and talking points drafted to help her argue for an acquittal.

The attempted bribe took place early this month on the eve of the final day of a weekslong trial, prosecutors said, the first in what they have described as a far-reaching fraud scheme.

Prosecutors have charged 70 people in the case with stealing tens of millions of dollars from a federal food-aid program meant to feed hungry children, taking advantage of lax oversight during the Covid-19 pandemic.

What they described as the attempted bribe imperiled the first trial in the case, which involved seven defendants. The jury this month convicted five of them of felonies including wire fraud and money laundering. Two were acquitted.

Three of the people charged Wednesday with attempted bribery were defendants in the trial. Two of them — Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, 35, of Savage Minn., and Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, 23, of Shakopee, Minn. — were among those convicted. A third defendant charged in the bribery scheme — Said Shafii Farah, 42, of Minneapolis — was acquitted at trial.

According to prosecutors, the defendants — who were all Somali immigrants — selected the juror who received the cash because she was the sole person of color on the jury. They sought to persuade her that the government was motivated by animus toward immigrants, according to talking points they hoped the juror would use in deliberations. “We are immigrants: they don’t respect and care about us,” the talking points said. It concluded by saying: “You alone can end this case.”

The two other defendants in the new case include a sibling of two of the trial defendants — Abdulkarim Shafii Farah, 24, of Minneapolis — who had not previously been charged in the case. The fifth defendant is a Seattle woman, Ladan Mohamed Ali, 31, who was accused of dropping off the bag of cash at the juror’s home. The juror was not home at the time and Ms. Mohamed Ali reportedly left the bag with a relative, according to the F.B.I.

Prosecutors said they found the talking points on the phone of one of the trial defendants, but it was not clear whether they were conveyed to the juror.

Andrew M. Luger, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, said he was grateful that the juror, a 23-year-old woman, reported the incident to the authorities.

“This is more than just a mob movie,” Mr. Luger told reporters Wednesday morning. “This is a chilling attack on our system of justice.”

This photo supplied by the U.S. attorney’s office for Minnesota shows cash from a bag that prosecutors say was left at the home of a juror in a massive fraud case this month.Credit…U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota, via Associated Press

On June 2, prosecutors said that Ms. Mohamed Ali handed a relative of the juror a Hallmark gift bag emblazoned with butterflies and flowers that contained nearly $120,000 in wads of $100, $50 and $20 bills. They added that before leaving, Ms. Mohamed Ali told the relative that a new bag with cash would be delivered if the trial ended in an acquittal.

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