Minneapolis, MN – A former professor who received accolades in 2017 after she launched a charity in Philando Castile’s name to pay for school lunches has been accused of stealing more than $120,000 that was raised.
Castile was fatally shot by a St. Anthony police officer in Falcon Heights during a traffic stop in July of 2016.
The officer who shot him was acquitted of manslaughter charges, but his Castile’s girlfriend and daughter received a $800,000 settlement, WCCO reported.
Castile worked as a nutrition supervisor at St. Paul’s J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School and had a reputation for buying lunch for children who didn’t have any money in their lunch account.
Pamela Fergus was a professor at Inver Hills Community College and an adjunct faculty member at Metropolitan State University when she launched the “Philando Feeds Children” philanthropic effort in August of 2017, NBC News reported.
She raised more than $200,000 fundraising off Castile’s name, but when it was time to make the actual charitable donations, prosecutors said that Fergus fell woefully short, the Pioneer Press reported.
Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison filed an enforcement action against Fergus in Ramsey County District Court on Thursday that alleged she had “breached charitable trust” by donating only $80,000 to St. Paul Public Schools.
Ellison said the rest of the money – $120,000 is outstanding – remained unaccounted for, the Pioneer Press reported.
Court records showed that prosecutors alleged Fergus had initially deposited all the money that was raised via online crowdfunding platforms into her personal checking account.
It was Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, who first raised a red flag about Fergus’ charity, the Pioneer Press reported.
Valerie said that Fergus got her consent to use her son’s name for the school lunch fundraiser but then refused to communicate with her about what was being done with the money that had been raised.
“I didn’t want any money,” the mother told the Pioneer Press. “I just wanted it to go where it was supposed to have went. I was new to all this as well.”
When Valerie asked Fergus where all the money was going, she was rebuffed by the professor.
“She said, ‘I don’t owe you any explanation,” Castile recalled. “She refused to give me any information about how the funds were being allocated, so I turned that information over to my attorney.”
Valerie’s attorney tried to get Fergus to provide the requested information, but when the self-professed do-gooder didn’t produce, the lawyer contacted the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office for help, the Pioneer Press reported.
That is the agency tasked with regulating charities in Minnesota.
“No one wants all this,” Castile’s mother lamented. “It’s so unfortunate because no one wants it to come to this, and there are so many generous people out there who were willing to help and donate.”
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office said in the complaint that Fergus had never properly registered her charity, failed to maintain proper financial records, and failed to account for more than $120,000 that was missing from the kitty, the Pioneer Press reported.
Court records showed that Fergus refused to allow investigators to have access to her bank records during the investigation.
Documents also showed the she eventually invoked her Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination and refused to talk with investigators, the Pioneer Press reported.
The complaint Ellison filed against Fergus sought unspecified civil penalties and fees.
Inver Hills Community College confirmed that Fergus is still a professor at the school, but Metropolitan State University said the former faculty member’s last day was May 7, the Pioneer Press reported.
“We just learned of the allegations today and are currently reviewing the Attorney General complaint,” Inver Hills Community College spokeswoman Lise Freking wrote in an email.
Ellison said it was sad that Fergus had abused the generosity of Minnesotans with good intentions, according to a press release announcing the enforcement action.
“Philando Castile cared deeply about the children he served, and the children loved him back,” the attorney general said. “Raising money supposedly to serve those children, then not doing so, is an insult to Philando’s legacy and all who loved him. After attempting for more than a year to work with Ms. Fergus to account for the missing money but being continually rebuffed, my office filed this enforcement action today as a last resort.”
“We never want to have to get to this point, but as the chief regulator of charities in Minnesota, I will use all the tools at my disposal to ensure that dollars raised for charitable purposes go only to those purposes — because that money belongs to the public, not to the people who raise it,” he added.
Castile’s mother urged Minnesotans to be careful how they raise money for charity, according to the press release.
“When you run a campaign or event to honor or support a charity or cause you are passionate about, please direct those funds in the appropriate manner,” Valerie said. “Donors in their generosity expect your honesty and commitment.”