Civics: Bag of $120,000 left as bribe for juror in Minnesota food program fraud trial

Steve Karnowski

Federal authorities in Minnesota have confiscated cellphones and taken all seven defendants into custody as investigators try to determine who attempted to bribe a juror with a bag of cash containing $120,000 to get her to acquit them on charges of stealing more than $40 million from a program meant to feed children during the pandemic.

The case went to the jury late Monday afternoon, after the juror, who promptly reported the attempted bribe to police, was dismissed and replaced with an alternate. The incident had further ripple effects before deliberations resumed Tuesday — when another juror was replaced after a family member asked about the the attempted bribe.

The seven were the first of 70 defendants to go on trial in what federal prosecutors have called one of the largest COVID-19-related fraud cases in the country. They’ve described it as a massive scheme to exploit lax rules during the pandemic and steal from a program that was meant to provide meals to children in Minnesota.

Prosecutors have said the seven collectively stole over $40 million in a conspiracy that cost taxpayers $250 million. At the center of the alleged plot was a group called Feeding Our Future. Prosecutors say just a fraction of the money went to feed low-income kids, and that the rest was spent on luxury cars, jewelry, travel and property. Federal authorities say they have recovered about $50 million.