Fraud lawsuit against Black Lives Matter foundation dismissed in California

A California judge has dismissed a civil lawsuit that grassroots racial justice activists across the United States filed last summer against a foundation responsible for managing the Black Lives Matter movement’s charitable endowment of a worth tens of millions of dollars.

Black Lives Matter Grassroots Inc., a collective of BLM organizers and chapters, claimed that the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation, Inc. collected donations through the work of city-based BLM branches and then defrauded the public and excluded activists from decision-making. manufacturing.

In dismissing the lawsuit, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Stephanie Bowick sided with foundation attorneys, who argued that local BLM activists had failed to prove that they were entitled to the funds raised or that the leaders of the foundation had diverted millions of dollars to nefarious purposes. among other unproven claims.

The fraud claim against the foundation was, in part, based on the alleged misrepresentation of a $6 million Los Angeles-area resort purchased with donated funds. The foundation says the property, which includes a house with six bedrooms and bathrooms, a swimming pool, a sound stage and offices, is being used as a campus for a Black Artist Fellowship. BLM chapter organizers say the donated funds were never intended to be used in this way.

If the allegations of fraud were “based on misrepresentation rather than concealment, the complaint does not sufficiently state how, when, where, to whom and by what means the representations were made,” Bowick said in an order. of the court delivered on Tuesday.

Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM Grassroots, said Thursday the group was “stunned and appalled” by the court’s dismissal order. A lawyer for the local organizers said an appeal would be filed “immediately”.

“As always, the work of Black Lives Matter continues regardless of the court’s decision,” Abdullah said in a statement.

In response to the decision, the BLM foundation said it would also continue its work.

“We have remained true to our principles, philanthropic duties and organizational direction despite countless egregious fabrications, misrepresentations and insinuations of wrongdoing committed against us,” read a statement from the foundation released Wednesday evening.

He filed motions to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s Strategic Public Involvement, or anti-SLAPP, lawsuits. The law aims to prevent complainants from using the courts as a means to intimidate people and organizations exercising their right to freedom of expression.

Justin Sanders, attorney for the BLM Grassroots, said the legal basis for the decision is a “terrible example of the letter and not the spirit of the law being followed”.

The local organizers’ suit, filed in state superior court last September, singled out foundation board secretary Shalomyah Bowers and her company, Bowers Consulting. Bowers’ business was brought in by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, before she stepped down as head of the organization in May 2021, to help the organization build infrastructure.

The foundation had financially supported BLM chapters in the United States and Canada, but desperately needed help amid an unprecedented wave of monetary support and public attention, following the murder of George Floyd in 2020. After receiving $90 million in donations between 2020 and 2021, and spending $37 million on grants, real estate, consultants and other expenses, the foundation invested $32 million in equity.

The foundation ended the 2021-2022 fiscal year with approximately $30 million in assets.

Its 2020-2021 IRS filings show Bowers’ company received $2.1 million to provide operational support, including staffing, fundraising and other key services — that was the share of the lion of what the organization has spent on consultants this fiscal year. But local organizers failed to prove in court that Bowers or his company siphoned off several million dollars in fees from the donated funds, as their lawsuit alleged.

These specific allegations against Bowers were “confusing and unintelligible,” Bowick wrote in the court’s order of dismissal.

A separate statement released by Bowers’ company said the BLM board secretary is deciding how to seek accountability for how the lawsuit has affected him and his business.

In a public letter to BLM Grassroots released after the court ruling, the foundation opened the door to repairing relationships with local BLM organizers.

“The issues we face as a community are too big for us to be divided,” the letter reads. “The only way to address the critical issues of police brutality, end state-sanctioned violence, black economic prosperity, and achieve a world where black people in the Diaspora thrive, experience joy and are not defined by their struggles, is if we heal the past and reimagine the future.”


Aaron Morrison is a New York-based member of AP’s Race and Ethnicity team. Follow him on Twitter:

Leave a Comment