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Minnesota professor raised $200,000 on behalf of Philando Castile for student lunch debt, she’s now ordered to repay the funds she embezzled

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A white woman who raised $200,000 on behalf of Philando Castile to pay off or supplement student lunch debt in the St. Paul school district must repay $120,000 to the state for embezzling the funds. The Crown says the fundraiser gave only a fraction of the money raised to the intended cause.

Pamela Fergus (Courtesy of Inver Hills Community College)

The New York Times reports that on Monday, March 28, the office of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that Pamela Fergus, a former professor of psychology at Metropolitan State University, has agreed to a settlement that will repay thousands of dollars raised during an online fundraiser called “Philando Feeds the Children”.

The settlement, which did not require Fergus to admit guilt, was filed in Ramsey County District Court. Now, by court order, he is prohibited “from managing charitable funds” in the state.

Fergus started the fundraiser in 2017, a year after Castile was killed by a police officer during a traffic stop. Prior to his untimely death, the black man was a nutrition supervisor at JJ Hill Montessori School and often paid for school catering costs for students in need.

The disgraced educator promised that “every dollar” donated would go towards relieving elementary students’ lunch debts. The state alleges that did not happen.

In June 2021, the Charities Division of the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office sued Fergus for “failing to properly spend all the money she raised on behalf of”, the man the children affectionately called Mr. Phil.

The lawsuit reveals that Fergus originally set the fundraising goal at $5,000 on crowdfunding platform with a cause statement that read, “Please help Philando continue to nurture their children. The page stated that the funds raised would go to the primary school where Castile worked.

Minnesota professor raised $200,000 on behalf of Philando Castile for student lunch debt, she’s now ordered to repay the funds she embezzled

 | Breaking News Updates

Once a national spotlight was placed on the crowdfunding campaign, the money started pouring in. Fergus increased the target goal to $999,999 and raised $207,826 in cash for children who could not afford food during their break.

In October 2017, the woman was quoted as saying, “We actually have enough money now to pay for all the schools in the St. Paul Public School District…So all the elementary schools, all the middle schools, and all the high schools. . More more. I mean, we’re still making money.

“I don’t think there’s an end in sight,” the lawsuit told a news outlet. “I want a million dollars in this account. It’s my goal. I want a million dollars.

The money was pouring in, but it was deposited into his personal account and only $80,058.99 was given to St. Paul Public Schools. According to school officials, Fergus sent three fundraising checks to the district: (1) a check for $10,000 on October 13, 2017; (2) a check for $35,035.99 dated February 27, 2018; and (3) a check for $35,000 dated August 13, 2018.

Fergus also offered on the website that there would be a classroom service project for an undergraduate class she was teaching in college, tied to the effort to relieve students’ school lunch debt.

Castile’s mother, Valerie Castile, suspected something was wrong with the charity campaign and asked how the money was being used. Her concerns prompted her to contact Ellison’s office and an investigation was launched.

In a statement to the attorney general’s office, the mother said of the settlement, “You should be putting this money where it’s supposed to go. These things are not for your personal gain. It’s not true.”

The attorney general said in a statement that funds received from the settlement will be distributed to “Saint Paul public schools for the limited purpose of paying off the lunch debts of children in need — the purpose for which Minnesotans donated the funds first. ”

Minnesota laws regarding charitable donations and fundraising are clear.

“Those who raise funds for charitable purposes have important duties,” the attorney general’s office says. “They cannot mislead or deceive donors about how funds will be used, must use money for the exact purpose the donors intended, and must put procedures in place to ensure that the money is used correctly. Additionally, those who raise more than $25,000 or meet certain other conditions must register and file specific documents with the Attorney General’s office.

“This settlement helps ensure that the money donors have given in Philando’s name will go back where it was intended – to help children in Saint Paul who are struggling to afford school lunches,” Attorney General Ellison said. .

He continued, “Philando Castile cared deeply about the children he served and the children loved him back. Not using every dollar raised to help these children was an insult to Philando’s legacy and to everyone who served him. loved.

“This settlement helps right that wrong by continuing Philando’s commitment to serving students in need and ensures that the powerful impact he had in his lifetime will live on as his legacy to children and to us. all.”

Ellison has paid particular attention to identifying people who commit fraud by launching crowdfunding campaigns, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the lawsuit, he cites a 2020 study of GoFundMe, a popular fundraising platform, and states, “Between March 1 and August 31, 2020, GoFundMe donors gave more than $625 million for relief efforts related to the COVID-19 pandemic – such as personally purchasing protective gear for frontline workers or providing school supplies to students transitioning to remote learning.

Ellison further reveals that just six months after the death of George Floyd, in another murder involving police in the same state where an officer killed Castile, donors have given approximately $3 million in donations through online donations.

Under the settlement agreement, Fergus is required to pay Minnesota $400 per month from June through February 2024. By March 3, 2024, she must pay out approximately $111,000 from her retirement funds.

She will be immediately liable if she fails to meet these payments and will be responsible for the full amount of her bill.

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