Five Convicted In Massive COVID-19 Relief Fraud Scheme Amid Juror Bribery Scandal

A federal jury has convicted five individuals for their involvement in a large-scale fraud scheme that misappropriated over $40 million from federal funds meant to provide meals for children during the COVID-19 pandemic. The high-profile case, which saw a total of 70 defendants facing trial, was marred by a shocking attempt to bribe a juror with $120,000 in cash, concealed inside a Hallmark gift bag, on the eve of closing arguments.

The bribery attempt, which U.S. Attorney Joseph Thompson likened to a scene from a “mob movie,” ultimately failed and led to the dismissal of the targeted juror and another who was informed of the bribe. An FBI affidavit revealed that an unidentified woman, aware of a 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.

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. They were part of a broader group, all of East African descent, accused of exploiting COVID-19 relief funds to the tune of more than $250 million, of which only $50 million has been recovered thus far.

Following the exposure of the bribery attempt, 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. Attempting to bribe a juror is a felony offense, carrying a potential sentence of up to 15 years in prison.