Los Angeles, CA – A lawsuit filed by other activists accused a prominent leader of the Black Lives Matter movement of treating the organization as his “personal piggy bank” and stealing more than $10 million.
The lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Sept. 1 accused Shalomyah Bowers, the leader of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF), of acting as a “rogue administrator, a middle man turned usurper” who allegedly siphoned millions from the nonprofit activist group, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The lawsuit against Bowers was filed by Black Lives Matter Grassroots, the umbrella organization for local Black Lives Matter chapters.
Bowers was hired in 2020 by former BLMGNF head and co-founder Patrisse Cullors to help raise and distribute money to local chapters and other groups within the foundation, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The attorney for Black Lives Matter Grassroots, Walter Mosley, said Bowers took the money he’d been entrusted to administer and engaged in self-dealing.
Bowers gave BLMGNF grants to his own consulting firm and charged them eight-figure fees, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The group’s 2021 tax filing showed the same year, BLMGNF paid $2.1 million to Bowers Consulting, the Associated Press reported.
“The lawsuit demands that they return the people’s funds and stop impersonating Black Lives Matter,” Mosley said in a statement.
Black Lives Matter-Los Angeles co-founder Melina Abdullah said at the press conference announcing the lawsuit that Bowers had changed the passwords to all of the Black Lives Matter social media accounts in March, effectively shutting them out.
Bowers responded to allegations by pointing the finger back at Abdullah, the Los Angeles Times reported.
He said that she was the one who had committed “financial malfeasance” and accused her of “unprincipled decision making, and a leadership style rooted in retribution and intimidation.”
“The BLMGNF Board requested – on over ten occasions – private mediation or meetings with Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots, including and regarding social media policies,” BLMGNF hit back in a statement to CNN. “We did so in order to stay true to principles of abolition – resolving issues through conflict mediation rather than falling victim to the carceral logic and social violence that fuels the legal system.’
“But Melina Abdullah and BLMGR ignored or refused our offers,” the statement continued. “To the contrary, they would rather take the same steps of our white oppressors and utilize the criminal legal system which is propped up by white supremacy (the same system they say they want to dismantle) to solve movement disputes.”
“In particular, Melina Abdullah and BLMGR’s storytelling concerning the current BLMGNF Board is harmful, divisive, and false,” the national organization claimed. “It only gives fodder to right-wing media’s clear agenda of sowing distrust and division among Black folks, and it is in deep contrast to abolitionist values and the fight for Black liberation.”
The lawsuit Black Lives Matter Grassroots filed against Bowers accused the Black Lives Matter board member of having used the contributions to the group as his “personal piggy bank,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
The national Black Lives Matter organization received $90 million in contributions following the death of George Floyd as he was being arrested by the Minneapolis police on May 25, 2020.
However, BLMGNF has faced sharp criticism when its first tax filings showed it had purchased a $6 million compound and the leaders had placed family members on the payroll.
The purchase of the $6 million home called “Campus” by the organization’s leadership was not publicly reported and the way the purchase was handled revealed they had hoped to keep its existence a secret, New York Magazine reported.
When that publication began asking questions about it, Black Lives Matters circulated a strategy memo discussing how to deal with the revelation.
Responses ranged from “Can we kill the story?” to “Our angle — needs to be to deflate ownership of the property,” New York Magazine reported.
The shady way that the group went about acquiring the mansion raised even more eyebrows.
Two weeks after BLMGNF received $66.5 million in contributions in October of 2020, Dyane Pascall bought the property that would become known as “Campus” for $6 million in cash, New York Magazine reported.
Pascall transferred ownership of the mansion less than a week later to a Delaware LLC established by the law firm Perkins Coie, a move that hid the identity of the property’s owner from the public.
Bowers, who is one of the group’s three board members, defended the purchase of the Los Angeles mansion at the time and said it was bought “with the intention for it to serve as housing and studio space for recipients of the Black Joy Creators Fellowship.”
The fellowship he referred to was announced the morning after the announcement, New York Magazine reported.
Bowers said in the same statement that BLMGNF had “always planned” to disclose the house in legal filings this May.
But the existence of the “Campus” purchased with donations meant for activism has outraged many supporters and it was not the first time that Cullors was at the center of the controversy.
The group also gave $6.3 million to a Canadian non-profit run by Cullors’ wife to buy a 10,000-square foot mansion in Toronto that once served as the Communist Party’s headquarters.
But even with all the fundraising and spending going on, BLMGNF failed to file required financial disclosure and tax forms.
And after Cullors resigned under a cloud of allegations of financial malfeasance in 2021 which arose after she had spent $3.2 million on new homes for herself in Georgia and Los Angeles, nobody officially took over running the organization, the Washington Examiner reported.
When California threatened to hold the leaders of the organization accountable, it was unclear who was in charge.
Cullors’ name was still on the paperwork and the address on their tax forms was wrong.
Activists Makani Themba and Monifa Bandele allegedly took over the running of BLMGNF when Cullors resigned, but then they suddenly quit in September of 2021, the New York Post reported.
They later put out a statement that said they were never in control of the organization’s finances.
BLMGNF raised more than $90 million in 2020 and had $60 million left in hand as of February of 2021, the New York Post reported.
At the end of 2020, 10 local Black Lives Matter chapters accused the national organization and Cullors of cutting them out of the process and failing to distribute millions of dollars in donations that had been donated for the purpose of local grassroots activism.