Florida A&M pauses purported $237.75 million donation after questions about validity | CNN Business (2024)

Florida A&M pauses purported $237.75 million donation after questions about validity | CNN Business (1)

A sign at the entrance to thecampus of Florida A&M University, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.


Florida A&M University is putting a purported $237.75 million donation “on pause,” after media reports and college board leaders raised concerns about the actual value of the stock gift—and the details surrounding the donor’s previous donations.

“A decision that was made yesterday to put a pause on this activity—a hold, is more or less, is the language that was used—pending some additional information that has come to my attention,” FAMU President Larry Robinson said Thursday during an emergency school board meeting, called after media reports and school leaders raised concerns about the legitimacy of the gift.

It’s a stunning reversal from the fanfare last Saturday at FAMU’s commencement ceremony, when the announcement of the gift made headlines as one of the largest ever personal donations ever to a historically Black college or university.

Gregory Gerami, the 30-year-old CEO of Texas hydroponic hemp farm company Batterson Farms Corp., presented the $237.75 million stock gift via an oversized, ceremonial check to university administration members including Robinson, who called the gift “breathtaking in its generosity and its scope” via apress releasethe day of the donation.

But the jubilance quickly gave way to skepticism.

Areportfrom Politico noted Batterson Farms Corp. is a comparatively small company, and that its private shares are unlikely to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

In 2020, a notable deal involving a donor later identified as Gerami fell apart. South Carolina’s Coastal Carolina University had announced a $95 million donation from an anonymous donor, who then backed out months later. An investigation by theMyrtle Beach Sun Newsidentified Gerami in a story that noted, among other details, that he backed out alleging racism from CCU officials—an allegation they denied.

Atanemergency board meeting on Thursday, FAMUboardof trusteeand foundation members expressedtheir concerns and frustration about the school’s vetting process involving Gerami’s donation.

Several members of the FAMU Foundation Board of Directors and Deveron Gibbons, the vice chair of the university’s Board of Trustees, said they were not informed of the donation until it was announced at commencement.

“This meeting is taking place because no one, as I am aware of from this conversation, had any clue this was going on,” Gibbons told CNN.“We are talking about a transformational, largest in HBCU history donation: big check on stage, with press involved and big PR campaign push after the fact. If that doesn’t show that we need to take a step back and get our own house in order, I don’t know what else does.”

Gibbons has called for an independent investigation into the transaction.

“I hope that this is a good gift. It could be transformative for the university and much needed. But we must vet the process, doing an announcement is not the first thing you do … Vet the individual. You vet the donation,” Vice Chair Gibbons said.

Board Chair Kristin Harper provided a statement to CNN on Friday saying, “Serious concerns have been raised regarding the validity of the gift, the adequacy of the due diligence processes and whether the Foundation Board and Board of Trustees have been provided ample oversight opportunity.”

“I regrettably share these concerns” Harper added.

On May 5, just one day after the announcement at commencement, FAMU released a statement via X (formerly Twitter) insisting the university had done its “due diligence.” The statement went on to say that Gerami had transferred $237,750,000 of stocks into a FAMU account last month.

A non-disclosure agreement requested by Gerami prohibited officials from disclosing the details to either the university’s board of trustees or the board of directors, Vice President for University Advancement Shawnta Friday-Stroud said during an emergency meeting Thursday.

“In addition to the wealth screening that was done at the beginning, we did a more expansive screening of Mr. Gerami’sbackground,” Friday-Stroud said.

“We had a discussion with Dr. Robinson, all of which has been put out on social media. We said, ‘ok, we will proceed with the decision to move forward,” Friday-Stroud added.

“My concern is our reputation has been greatly impacted and I want to make sure that we restore faith in our alumni and all of the friends and family that support Florida A&M University,” said FAMU Foundation Board member Terry Arnold.

When reached by CNN on Thursday, Gerami declined immediate comment. He referred questions to the university and agreed to answer CNN’s questions on the following day, but he couldn’t be reached.

FAMU’s Special Board of Trustees, which oversees the full school and the foundation, has scheduled ameeting for May 15to discuss the donation.

FAMU’s communications department did not respond to CNN’s request for comment on more detailed questions about the gift and the nature of the vetting process.

Florida A&M pauses purported $237.75 million donation after questions about validity | CNN Business (2024)
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