Feeding Our Future prosecutor says juror was offered $120K to acquit

Published 5:40 am Tuesday, June 4, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Matt Sepic, Minnesota Public Radio News

A juror in the Feeding Our Future trial was offered a $120,000 bag of cash and promised more if the juror voted to acquit, a prosecutor said Monday.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Joe Thompson said that an unnamed woman visited the north Twin Cities metro home of a juror late Sunday, gave the cash to the juror’s father-in-law (the juror was not at home) and promised to deliver more money if the juror agreed to find the defendants not guilty.

Email newsletter signup

The juror called 911 when she returned home, and local police contacted the FBI.

In court Monday afternoon, Thompson said the mystery woman knew the name of the juror — described in documents as juror 52 — and indicated “someone in this room” was involved in the attempted payoff. “It’s not a prosecutor and it’s not one of the defense counsel,” he said.

Thompson noted called the alleged bribery “beyond the pale and outrageous” and noted that only the defendants and their attorneys had access to the jurors’ names.

Judge Nancy Brasel dismissed juror 52 and confirmed with the remaining 17 that no one had contacted them about the case. The jury began deliberations just after 4:30 p.m.

“This juror was terrified. This juror remains at risk for retaliation,” Brasel said late Monday afternoon as she ordered all seven defendants detained pending a verdict. Jurors are sequestered and “very concerned” for themselves and their families, Brasel said.

Defense attorneys argued that their clients do not present a flight risk and should not be detained, and added that the government failed to present evidence linking any of the seven defendants to the alleged bribery attempt.

The FBI has seized the cell phones of the seven defendants, and requested a judge’s permission to search the devices. By late afternoon Monday, the defendants unlocked their phones for the FBI.

In the search warrant application of the defendants’ phones, a federal agent said the “gift bag” contained bills in denominations of $100, $50 and $20. It also noted the FBI interviewed the juror Monday morning as agents took control of the bag. Photos in the search warrant application show what appears to be a Hallmark bag decorated with butterflies and flowers.

Bags of money

Money recovered from a bribe in the Feeding Our Future trial.
Screenshot via Minnesota search warrant

This case involves seven defendants connected to a small restaurant in Shakopee who are accused of stealing $47 million from two federal child nutrition programs during the pandemic by falsifying reimbursement requests. Investigators say this was part of a much larger scheme to fleece taxpayers out of $250 million.

Thompson told the jury Friday that the defendants took advantage of the pandemic to enrich themselves by exploiting programs that were set up to feed kids but were “not designed to make people wealthy.”

Thompson noted the defendants served some food — and handed out grocery bags at a mosque and a school — but that “if you’re going to defraud the federal child nutrition program, you have to do something to make it look good.”

Thompson on Monday said the defendants were risk flights and that even if they’re acquitted, they face additional charges for jury tampering and bribery.

Defense attorneys largely reiterated their theory of the case, that the defendants served real food to real kids. They’ve argued their clients are not a flight risk, had nothing to do with the alleged bribery and that the government did not present evidence that they had.

Correction (June 3, 2024): An earlier version of this story quoted the judge saying the jury was “terrified” and at risk for retaliation. Those remarks were specific to the dismissed juror.