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Here’s what to know about a stalled $237M donation to Florida A&M

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Here’s what to know about a stalled $237M donation to Florida A&M
News

News

Here’s what to know about a stalled $237M donation to Florida A&M

2024-06-14 20:48 Last Updated At:20:50

NEW YORK (AP) — In early May, Florida A&M University announced a stunning $237 million gift from a 30-year-old donor who cast himself as Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer.” The donation, which would have been the largest-ever private gift to a historically Black college or university, was announced at commencement to great fanfare.

Days later, everything began falling apart.

Following public backlash over its apparent failure to properly vet Gregory Gerami's donation, FAMU put the gift on pause. University trustees approved an outside investigation into the six-month process, an advancement officer resigned from her senior post and state officials are now overseeing the independent probe.

Gerami has said the questions over his donation are unnecessary “whack-a-mole” and maintains everything will ultimately work out.

Here's what is known and what to expect next:

University officials say they began meeting virtually with Gerami after he contacted Florida A&M’s development office about a donation last fall.

Following months of conversations, it was agreed that his donation would come through 14 million shares in his fledgling industrial hemp company, Batterson Farms Corp.

Despite an “expansive screening” into Gerami's background that raised questions about his legitimacy, university officials moved forward after looping in Larry Robinson, FAMU's president. The university's board of trustees and foundation board were excluded from the conversations.

The school's then-vice president for university advancement signed a nondisclosure agreement on behalf of the foundation board in late April.

However, the subsequent May announcement came before an independent appraisal of the private stock's value was completed.

Companies typically get what’s known as a 409A valuation from an independent third party before gifting shares, but Gerami did not do that. While not illegal, corporate finance experts said that failing to do so raised red flags.

FAMU officials later acknowledged that the financial services firm they had hired could return with a much lower valuation.

Whether the share transfer between Gerami and FAMU even took place is also in question.

A spokesperson for Carta, the equity management company they say completed the exchange, would only confirm that the platform notified Gerami on May 14 that it had terminated his contract. They declined to comment on FAMU’s assertion that it had a Carta account and Gerami’s claim that the company sent documentation confirming the transfer.

Securities donations to colleges and universities are not abnormal, but higher education fundraisers say those gifts tend to come from wealthy shareholders of reputable public companies.

Gerami founded Batterson Farms in 2021 with aspirations of becoming a leading hemp plastics producer.

Texas agriculture records confirm the company is licensed to grow hemp, but little suggests that’s happening.

The company’s website is sparse and affiliate links to buy HempWood products were broken when an Associated Press reporter visited the site in late May and early June. A one-time board member told the AP the company isn’t farming hemp anywhere.

Gerami pushed back on those assertions and described the information as outdated. He refused to provide AP with specifics about the company’s contracts, revenue and staffing, and declined to confirm whether Batterson Farms is producing hemp itself.

Florida A&M is not the first school to receive a pitch from Gerami.

In 2023, W. Anthony Neal, then-senior vice president of institutional advancement at Wiley University in Texas, said he talked with Gerami at least seven times about a donation of $1 million to $2 million for new campus facilities. Neal told the AP that after he began the “normal vetting process” and sought an in-person meeting to verify Gerami's legitimacy, communications dropped off. Neal added that “sometimes donors just pull out” and it “doesn’t mean anything bad.”

Coastal Carolina University withdrew from an anonymous $95 million contribution in 2020 that was later reported The Sun News to have been made by Gerami. The school said the donor had “not fulfilled an early expectation of the arrangement.”

Gerami told AP that he “considered” as many as 15 colleges and universities in recent years as part of a strategy to establish research partnerships that he said would make his company eligible for grants.

Florida A&M is awaiting the results of an independent investigation of the debacle by an outside law firm. Trustees approved the independent probe last month that the inspector general of Florida's state university system has since been joined.

Both Gerami and the university are also waiting on separate valuations of his proposed stock donation. Gerami told the AP he expects his results to return within the month.

However, the delay — temporary or otherwise — may already have impacted FAMU's plans.

Days after announcing the donation, the university withdrew a $15 million request to a local economic development board to enhance FAMU’s football stadium, according to records obtained by AP and first reported by The Tallahassee Democrat.

While the university declined to comment on the withdrawal, the gift agreement shows a one-time $24 million allocation of Gerami’s donation for athletics facilities.

Millions annually were also supposed to fund scholarships, the nursing school and a student business incubator over the next decade.

Associated Press coverage of philanthropy and non-profits receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content. For all of AP’s philanthropy coverage, visit https://apnews.com/hub/philanthropy.

A large mascot of a rattlesnake is on display in front of the student success center at the Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

A large mascot of a rattlesnake is on display in front of the student success center at the Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Lee Hall sits atop the hill at the Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

Lee Hall sits atop the hill at the Florida A&M University campus in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

This image made from video provided by WCTV shows Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas' "youngest African American industrial hemp producer," third from left, and Florida A&M University president Larry Robinson pose with a ceremonial check while being surrounded by other university officials during a commencement ceremony on May 4, 2024 in Tallahassee, Fla. The $237 million donation was promised by Gerami, but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (WCTV via AP)

This image made from video provided by WCTV shows Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas' "youngest African American industrial hemp producer," third from left, and Florida A&M University president Larry Robinson pose with a ceremonial check while being surrounded by other university officials during a commencement ceremony on May 4, 2024 in Tallahassee, Fla. The $237 million donation was promised by Gerami, but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (WCTV via AP)

The Florida A&M University campus is seen in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

The Florida A&M University campus is seen in Tallahassee, Fla., Thursday, June 6, 2024. $237 million donation to FAMU was promised by Gregory Gerami, a 30-year-old who called himself Texas’ “youngest African American industrial hemp producer,” but everything was not what it seemed and the donation is now in limbo. Gerami maintains that everything will work out, but FAMU is not the only small university that has engaged with his major donation proposals only to see them go nowhere. (AP Photo/Mark Wallheiser)

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A few short minutes after Trump took the stage, shots rang out

2024-07-14 13:17 Last Updated At:13:21

BUTLER, Pa. (AP) — At 6:02 pm Saturday, to the strains of “God Bless the U.S.A.,” former President Donald Trump took the stage at fairgrounds in Butler, Pennsylvania, waving at the cheering crowd and settling into his regular rally speech under a scorching midsummer sun.

A few short minutes later, Trump pointed to a projection of a chart that showed a spike in illegal border crossings under the man he's running against, President Joe Biden. “That chart's a couple of months old,” Trump told the crowd. “And if you want to see something really sad —”

That's when the shots rang out, at least five. Trump clutched his ear as dark-suited Secret Service agents dashed toward him. He dropped to the ground as the agents yelled, “Get down!” The thousands of rallygoers packed into the field in front of him moved as one, dropping down as silence spread across the grass, punctuated only by an occasional scream.

Moments later, Trump stood as the Secret Service agents crowded around him, covering his body with their own. They tried to usher the former president offstage to his left as blood trickled from his ear. “Wait, wait, wait,” Trump said. He pumped his fist as the crowd cheered, and seemed to mouth the word “fight” before agents hustled him down the stairs and to a waiting black SUV. Trump pumped his fist one more time before getting inside.

The local district attorney said the shooter and one rallygoer were dead. In a statement issued shortly after the attack, which officials say was an apparent assassination attempt, Trump's campaign said he was “fine.”

There were no hints of the horror to come as rallygoers assembled outside the secure Secret Service perimeter earlier that afternoon. Butler is a city of 13,000 located 33 miles north of Pittsburgh in western Pennsylvania, firmly in Trump country. It's the sort of rural Rust Belt area that helped make Trump president in 2016 and almost kept him in office in 2020 — Trump won Butler County by 32 percentage points.

The green grass of the field was slowly covered by a sea of red Make America Great Again hats as the temperature climbed to 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Local politicians occasionally spoke as rallygoers patiently waited hours, occasionally breaking into chants of “Trump! Trump! Trump!” At one point, a giant American flag hanging above the stage became tangled, prompting chants of “fix the flag!” until it was correctly unfurled.

Outside the perimeter, there were stands selling food, beverages and Trump paraphernalia, as is common at the rallies. Behind the stage, separated from the field by waist-high metal barriers, another field stretched out, dotted with distant buildings. The crowd perked up when Trump's favorite playlist began, kicking off with The Village People's “YMCA.” Then Trump walked out toward the stage, wearing his familiar red hat, a black suit, white shirt unbuttoned at the neck and no tie.

He smiled and pointed at the crowd as they cheered him, waiting for the Lee Greenwood song to conclude before starting his remarks. “This is a big crowd,” Trump said. “This is a big, big beautiful crowd.”

After name-checking David McCormick, the Republican running against Pennsylvania's Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, and promising to bring him on stage later in the rally, Trump turned to one of his favorite themes. “We have millions and millions of people in our country who should not be here,” he said. “Dangerous people.”

Then he directed the audience to the projected chart of border crossings.

After the shots rang out and Trump was hustled offstage, agents in black uniforms carrying rifles, the agency's Counter-Assault team, flooded the stage. The crowd stayed down with the exception of one clutch of people standing near the left edge of the perimeter, near the sounds of gunfire.

Rico Elmore, vice chairman of the Beaver County Republican Party, was sitting in a section for special guests, facing Trump, when he heard what sounded like firecrackers. “So, everyone hesitated — and it was like, no, these are actual shots," he said in an interview. "So I yelled, ‘Get down!’”

Elmore heard someone from his left calling for a medic. While Elmore isn’t a medic, he knows first aid and CPR from his time in the military. He jumped a barricade, but when he reached the person, Elmore saw he had been shot in the head. Elmore said he held the victim’s head, but it was too late.

"I mean, it was a horror,” Elmore said.

The victim has not been identified.

Even as Trump was driven off, rallygoers stayed low. Some had heard the bullets ricocheting off the grandstand, severing a hydraulic line connecting to the speakers, which began to topple. Others quickly called family or looked on their phones to find out what had happened to the former president.

“Is he all right?” people began to ask. “Is he OK?”

Eventually, people began to trickle out. A small group of about a half-dozen stopped at the fenced area holding the media. “It's all your fault!” they yelled.

Police and then the Secret Service ushered everyone out. An hour after the shooting the vast field was declared a crime scene, littered with empty plastic water bottles and soggy cardboard containers that once held cheese fries.

Associated Press writer Nicholas Riccardi in Denver and Leah Askarinam in Washington contributed to this report.

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents as he leaves the stage at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents as he leaves the stage at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty and littered with debris Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

A campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty and littered with debris Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump gestures as he is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

People react during a campaign rally with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

People react during a campaign rally with Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surround by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surround by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is moved from the stage at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is moved from the stage at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

People hug after Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

People hug after Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Law enforcement officers gather at campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. Trump's campaign said in a statement that the former president was "fine" after a shooting at his rally in Butler (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Law enforcement officers gather at campaign rally site for Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is empty Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. Trump's campaign said in a statement that the former president was "fine" after a shooting at his rally in Butler (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

U.S. Secret Service agents surround the stage as other agents cover Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

U.S. Secret Service agents surround the stage as other agents cover Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Police snipers return fire after shots were fired while Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Police snipers return fire after shots were fired while Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump was speaking at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., on Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is surrounded by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is covered by U.S. Secret Service agents at a campaign rally, Saturday, July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pa. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump is helped off the stage at a campaign event in Butler, Pa., Saturday, July 13, 2024. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

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