FAMU Launches Investigation After It’s Discovered That $237 Million Donation Is Likely A Sham

(Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)

Two weeks after the announcement of a record-breaking $237 million donation to Florida A&M University (FAMU), the school’s president, Larry Robinson, is apologizing after the validity of the donation has come into question.

During a special meeting of the FAMU Board of Trustees on Wednesday, Robinson acknowledged that his optimism about the donation caused him to overlook warning signs.  “I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs along the way,” Robinson said. “There was no personal gain. But the impact on our students and our university would have been extraordinary.”

The major donation was announced unexpectedly during the May 4th commencement. Robinson and Texas-based hemp investor and commencement speaker Gregory Gerami shared that Gerami had donated the money in the form of shares in his private company, Batterson Farms Corp.

About six FAMU officials reportedly decided to accept a major gift from Batterson Farms Corp. CEO Gregory Gerami without informing other key university stakeholders, including members of the FAMU Foundation Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees.

According to WUSF, the local NPR radio station, Gerami’s business background is dubious, and he has a history of making large gift promises to other institutions that have yet to come to fruition. Now, Gerami’s ability to fulfill this donation has not been addressed, and the HBC is dealing with the possibility that the money won’t materialize as promised.

A few days after stating that the historic gift was placed on hold, Robinson revealed that it has been “ceased.” It was unclear what Robinson meant, including whether the gift was declined. 

The university’s trustees voted unanimously to investigate the questionable transaction and the school’s process for major gifts and vetting donors.

Robinson took accountability for the poor vetting of the donor, who was recognized as the keynote speaker at a spring graduation ceremony.

“The public announcement at commencement was premature at best, and I apologize to all who witnessed it and shared their joy and jubilation. It is my belief that with the guidance of this board, we will arrive at a process much more transparent when it comes to such large gifts in the future,” he further stated.

Robinson also apologized to Board of Trustees Chair Kristin Harper, to which she responded, “I should have never been put on the spot or used for a convenient photo or video op for a gift that I knew nothing about,” Harper said.

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