The head of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) Global Network Foundation has been accused of stealing more than $10 million in donations given to the Marxist movement for “on-the-ground work,” according to court documents.
Shalomyah Bowers, who serves on the foundation’s three-person board that acts as a fundraising umbrella for BLM activism, has been described in a criminal complaint filed by BLM Grassroots as a “rogue administrator” and “middle man turned usurper.”
The grassroots group, a California-based non-profit made up of BLM chapters across the country, said Bowers was hired to help collect and distribute donations for expenditures within the foundation, but he instead used the organization as his “personal piggy bank.”
Bowers’s actions prompted the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and various state attorney generals to lead “multiple investigations” into its financial accounts, “blazing a path of irreparable harm” to the BLM movement in less than 18 months, according to the complaint.
“While BLM leaders and movement workers were on the streets risking their lives, Mr. Bowers remained in his cushy offices devising a scheme of fraud and misrepresentation to break the implied-in-fact contract between donors and BLM,” the lawsuit states.
When Bowers was confronted about the raised allegation, he changed the passwords of shared social media accounts, email groups, website portals, and other tools the movement had built over the years in order to continue “fraudulently raising money from unsuspecting donors passing himself off as the organization,” it added.
Melina Abdullah, a BLM chapter co-founder and Los Angeles professor, announced the lawsuit in a news conference on Thursday, saying Bowers shut her and other leaders out of the BLM social media accounts in March by changing the passwords, The Los Angeles Times reported.
BLM Global Network Foundation board members on Thursday responded to the lawsuit on its website in a joint statement, saying the claims against them are “harmful, divisive, and false.”
The three-person board, which includes Bowers, said it requested to meet with Abdullah and BLM Grassroots to discuss the allegations and social media issues, but they “ignored or refused” the offers.
The board also accused Abdullah and the BLM chapter of wanting to “control the entirety of BLM” and to rather “take the same steps of our white oppressors” and “utilize the criminal legal system” than resolve internal issues through conflict mediation.
Bowers, who also runs a consulting firm, was hired in 2020 by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors, a self-identified “trained Marxist” who stepped down from her role as executive director following criticism over the foundation’s finances and reports of her purchasing four high-end homes for $3.2 million in the United States.
Walter Mosley, an attorney representing the case, alleges that Bowers engaged in self-dealing, giving grants to his own consulting firm and charging exorbitant fees reaching eight figures, according to The Los Angeles Times.
“The lawsuit demands that they return the people’s funds and stop impersonating Black Lives Matter,” Mosley said in a statement.
According to tax filings (pdf) revealed in May, BLM paid nearly $2.17 million in service fees, including staffing, fundraising, and other key services, to Bowers’s consulting company between July 2020 and June 2021. The foundation also paid roughly $1.8 million to people with close ties to Cullors.
BLM’s failure to make its financials transparent has attracted growing questions from state governments. California and Washington have barred BLM from collecting donations due to its lack of financial transparency. This concern also caused Amazon to remove BLM from its charity platform AmazonSmile, and Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita in April filed a lawsuit against the network as part of its investigation over how the group used its donations.
The foundation had nearly $42 million in net assets as of June 30, 2021, according to the tax form. It had about $80 million in revenue through grants, royalties, and other contributions. Roughly $26 million, or about a third of the amount, were dispensed to BLM chapters and organizations advancing BLM, transgender, and environmental causes.