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Thursday, June 13, 2024

Gregory Gerami Doubles Down On Controversial $237M Donation, Says FAMU Has Gone Radio Silent

Gregory Gerami, who claimed to have donated near quarter billion to Florida A&M University, still insists that the value of his donation to the university is worth an estimated $237 million.

FAMU, the nation’s top-ranked historically Black public university, now seems to have severed all public ties with Gerami, the CEO of Batterson Farms Corp.

At the special Board of Trustees meeting on May 15, President Larry Robinson apologized, stating that the donation has been “ceased,” although he did not explain what that meant. He admitted to making mistakes and “ignoring warning signs along the way,” which has led to the board’s decision to conduct a third-party investigation.

In a Thursday interview with the Tallahassee Democrat, Gerami said he didn’t watch the special meeting, adding he was “on vacation and trying his hand at pickleball and was unable to tune in.”

As of May 16, Gerami said he hasn’t ‘received any formal communication from FAMU about its decision to cease all activity related to the donation,’ adding he hasn’t been contacted by Robinson or anyone from FAMU leadership in nearly a week. And while he stands by his purported donation, he has not responded to requests from the Democrat to share any appraisal or valuation of the stock.

“I have not received information that they were going to pull from the gift (as of May 16),” said Gerami, who said he understands both FAMU Foundation board members and trustees want to see a third-party valuation of the private stock. “It’s premature, and I can’t speak for FAMU and I have no issues with FAMU … My commitment still remains.”

“The university and other folks and the media are doing things that are premature because we don’t even have a valuation.”

He said he was “aware of a few things,” including Shawnta Friday-Stroud’s sudden resignation as vice president for university advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation and that an interim director was named.

When asked if FAMU has rescinded the gift, he said, “I haven’t heard that.”

On May 4, when Gregory Gerami addressed the audience of graduates, their families, friends, and alumni at Florida A&M University, he proclaimed to applause: “The money is in the bank.”

Yet, mounting evidence behind the donation and donor was not what it seemed when the gift was hailed as the largest act of philanthropy in HBCU history. Instead, documents later revealed that Gerami transferred 14 million shares of stock of indeterminate value that could be worth $300 million or zero dollars, according to one FAMU Foundation board member.

Gerami, a little-known Texas-based hemp producer and CEO of Batterson Farms Corp, presented himself as an innovator on the rise, who owned one of the few Black hemp farms in Texas.

But according to the Tallahassee Democrat, few industry insiders knew his name and his scant digital footprint and missing money trail led to near-instant skepticism. Despite six months of interactions and conversations, FAMU blew past possible red flags, which might have led them to a former Alabama politician listed as Gerami’s co-CEO, who told the Tallahassee Democrat she never received a dime from him.

Florida A&M University x Tallahassee, FL
Florida A&M University is a public historically black land-grant university in Tallahassee, Florida.

Last Wednesday, The Florida A&M Board of Trustees convened a meeting to discuss the next steps following a historic $237 million donation that the Rattlers received during their Spring commencement ceremony. During the nearly two-hour meeting, the Board unanimously voted to commission an external investigation to look into the details of the substantial donation.

The investigation is said to determine what happened during the process that led to accepting the donation and ensure compliance with policies, processes, and financial controls. It will also recommend any necessary corrective actions in a written report under the leadership of the Board of Trustees’ Audit and Compliance Committee chair, Michael White.

Board members are expected to receive regular updates about the investigation once it begins.

In the Thursday interview with Gerami, the Demcorat asked if he would participate in a third-party investigation surrounding the donation. Gerami responded, “It depends on what’s asked.”

“We also understand that transparency is key to an extent,” he said. “We also must protect our business and our proprietary information. So having a third party evaluate our business and determine the stock price, I think (that is) most important in this whole situation.”

Gerami also said he was not asked to participate in the FAMU Foundation emergency meeting last week nor the FAMU Board of Trustees meeting.

“I know for a fact no one said, ‘Mr. Gerami, we’d like you to be on this Zoom call to answer whatever questions from the board,’” he said. “No one’s asked that.”

If he had been on the call, Gerami said he believes his presence would have been well received by some and others would have attacked him.

“That comes with the situation, right?” he said. “You learn that people are going to think what they want to think, and they’re going to say what they want to say.”

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