Juror Bribery Scandal Rocks COVID-19 Relief Fraud Trial, Five Convicted

A federal jury has found five individuals guilty for their roles in a massive fraud scheme that siphoned over $40 million from federal funds intended to feed children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The case, which involved a total of 70 defendants, all of East African descent, accused of exploiting relief funds to the tune of more than $250 million, was overshadowed by a shocking attempt to bribe a juror.

On the night before closing arguments, an unidentified woman allegedly delivered $120,000 in cash, concealed in a Hallmark gift bag, to a juror’s home, promising more money if the juror voted for acquittal. The juror, who was not at home at the time, promptly alerted the police about the suspicious attempt. An FBI affidavit revealed that the woman, aware of the juror’s first name despite the confidentiality of their identities, instructed a family member to offer the juror more money for an acquittal verdict the following day.

U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson compared the incident to a scene from a “mob movie.” The bribery attempt led to the dismissal of the targeted juror and another who was informed of the bribe. Following the exposure of the incident, the presiding judge ordered the seven defendants to surrender their mobile phones for investigative scrutiny, and authorities handcuffed and escorted them out of the courtroom.

The five individuals convicted — Abdiaziz Shafii Farah, Mohamed Jama Ismail, Abdimajid Mohamed Nur, Mukhtar Mohamed Shariff, and Hayat Mohamed Nur — faced charges ranging from wire fraud to money laundering and federal programs bribery. So far, only $50 million of the misappropriated funds have been recovered. Attempting to bribe a juror is a felony offense, carrying a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison.