At the Feeding our Fraud trial: Detention

Judge Brasel announced at the conclusion of jury instructions and a long day in the courtroom that she was sequestering the jury. This came as news to the jury. I felt incredibly sorry for them.

She then held a hearing on the issue of detention of the seven defendants in light of the bribery of a juror with a bag full of $120,000 cash (100s, 50s, and 20s) at her home last night. Judge Brasel wanted the defendants current release in light of that shocking occurrence. I want to note the following facts.

• This is the first trial of several in the massive Feeding Our Future fraud case. Some 70 defendants have been charged so far. Eighteen have pleaded guilty. Forty-five await trial, including ringleader Aimee Bock.

• All seven defendants in this first trial are Somali refugees. Only one of the seven testified at trial. The other six rested on their Fifth Amendment right. The one who testified came across well on direct. On cross, however, I found him to be a cold-blooded liar.

• Assistant United States Attorney Joe Thompson is a fantastic attorney and lead prosecutor in this case. He moved the court for a reconsideration of the defendants’ release and argued for their detention at the end of the day this afternoon. He seized on the defendants’ collective “we don’t know nothin’ about nothin'” defense and assertion of Somali cultural behavior to explain the inexplicable in this case. Defendants had introduced the testimony of Professor Paul Vaaler on East African business practices even though he reviewed no evidence in this case.

• Thompson argued that one or more of defendants is likely responsible for the bribe — the jurors’ names were only made available to counsel during voir dire and then collected. The jurors were never identified by name in court. Juror 52 had only been referred to by number.

• Thompson reported that the bribe was proffered at juror 52’s home in exchange for acquittal of all defendants with a promise of more to come. Juror 52 called 911 and turned the funds over to the Spring Lake Park police. Thompson advised the court that she is terrified of retribution.

• Thompson argued that the defendants are classic flight risks and threats to the safety of the entirety of the community in general and the Feeding Our Future case in particular. Assuming one or more defendants are acquitted or the jury is hung, he wondered how we can believe the verdict to come in this case.

• The government obtained a search warrant on defendants’ cell phones this afternoon on the order of Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Cowan Wright. The warrant is based on the 17-page affidavit sworn by FBI Special Agent Travis Wilmer. Let us hope they can crack this case faster than the arson case involving the Center of the American Experiment

• Defendants all argued strenuously against detention. They all pleaded innocence of the bribe and entitlement to individualized consideration. The government cannot narrow its suspicion to any one defendant.

• Judge Brasel adjourned the hearing for five minutes. When she returned she announced that she was finding detention pending verdict necessary to assure defendants’ appearance and protect the safety of the community.

• The government has collected all defendants’ cell phones and seeks to allocate responsibility .for the bribery. As it learns facts that eliminate any particular defendant as a suspect, it will promptly advise the court and counsel.

• The jury will be back with a verdict this week and will work overtime to return it in the next day or two.

• Defendants’ are all capably represented in this case. AUSA Joe Thompson is a powerful advocate and Judge Brasel is an excellent judge. I came away from the hearing with additional respect for both of them.

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