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Florida HBCU trustees investigate $238 million hoax ‘gift’

On Wednesday (May 15), Florida A&M University President Larry Robinson apologized for a $237 million donation that appeared to be fraudulent.

Gregory Gerami, CEO of Batterson Farms Corp., was responsible for the large gift. The good news was shared on May 4th and immediately received nationwide praise. However, some questioned the validity of such a large sum of money to an HBCU.

Robinson announced that the gift transaction was ultimately “discontinued,” just days after it was announced that the historic donation had been put on hold. The university’s trustees are now investigating the questionable transaction.

The fallout led Shawnta Friday-Stroud, who served as vice president for university advancement at Florida A&M University and executive director of the FAMU Foundation, to resign as vice president.

Friday-Stroud, along with six FAMU officials, decided to accept Gerami’s donation without informing other key school stakeholders – including members of the FAMU Foundation Board of Directors and Board of Trustees.

Robinson took responsibility for the poor vetting of the donor, who was recognized as a keynote speaker at a graduation ceremony in the spring. “I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs,” Robinson said explained to the board.

“The public announcement at the outset was premature at best and I apologize to everyone who witnessed this and shared their joy and jubilation. “I am confident that with the guidance of this body we will have a much more transparent process when it comes to such large donations in the future,” he continued.

Robinson also apologized to Board of Trustees Chairwoman Kristin Harper. Harper, however, was unimpressed. “I should never have been put in charge or used for a practical photo or video op for a gift I didn’t know about,” Harper said said pointedly.

She added: “I fully support your decision to abandon this transaction. I just wish the decision had been made during the six months spent developing the gift and before a public announcement that could damage the reputation of this university.”

The investigation will examine what happened during the process that led to the donation being accepted and take a closer look at compliance with policies, processes and financial controls.

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