‘Philando Feeds The Children’ founder accused of stealing $120K in donations

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MINNEAPOLIS, MN – A St. Paul professor who led a viral crowdfunding campaign to pay off student lunch debts in Philando Castile’s name spent less than half the $200,000 she raised on the intended purpose, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison alleged on Thursday.

Castile was fatally shot during a traffic stop in Falcon Heights in July 2016 by now-former St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez, who was later acquitted of manslaughter.

Castile was a nutrition supervisor at St. Paul’s J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School and was known to regularly help students pay for their lunches.

Attorney General Ellison’s office filed a civil enforcement action in Ramsey County District Court against Pamela Fergus, alleging a breach of charitable trust, deceptive solicitation of charitable contributions, failure to maintain proper records, and unregistered solicitation of contributions.

Ellison alleges Fergus, through her charity, “Philando Feeds the Children”, “breached charitable trust” by only donating about $80,000 to St. Paul Public Schools. The AG alleges the remainder of the funds have not been accounted for.  All of the donations, raised through online crowdfunding, were initially deposited into Fergus’ personal checking account.

Court papers also allege Fergus failed to register the charity properly, failed to maintain proper business records, and failed to account for the missing $120,000.

Investigators said Fergus refused to allow investigators access to her banking records and refused to talk to detectives.

The civil enforcement action seeks penalties and fees against Fergus.

Fergus, a professor at Inver Hills Community College and faculty member at Metro State University, spearheaded a fundraising effort with a psychology class titled “Introduction to Diversity and Ethics in Psychology.”

Fergus started “Philando Feeds the Children” in 2017 as part of an in-class service project for the class, with the original goal of raising $5,000 online to pay off the lunch debts of St. Paul Public School students. However, Ellison quickly raised $80,000, which she donated to the school district.

At the end of the semester, investigators say Fergus left the fundraising site operational and accumulated another $120,000 in donations sent to her personal checking account through the Spring of 2018.

The AG opened an investigation into the missing funds in 2020:

“(Fergus) rebuffed numerous attempts to work constructively with the Attorney General’s office to account for the $120,000 that remains unaccounted for.”

Valerie Castile, Philando’s mother, supports the actions taken against Fergus:

“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. Donors in their generosity expect your honesty and commitment.”

Valerie said that she once asked for an update from Fergus regarding where the money was going, and Fergus told her:

 “She said, ‘I don’t owe you any explanation.’ She refused to give me any information about how the funds were being allocated, so I turned that information over to my attorney.”

Fergus allegedly refused to give the information to Valerie’s attorney as well, and the attorney contacted the attorney general’s office, which regulates charities in Minnesota.

Valerie said the entire scheme makes her sad:

“No one wants all this. 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.”

Lise Freking, a spokeswoman for Inver Hills, told news media that Fergus was still employed there:

“We just learned of the allegations today and are currently reviewing the Attorney General complaint.”

A spokeswoman for Metro State said Fergus left employment with the college on May 7.

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Minnesota Officer Acquitted in Philando Castile Shooting

June 17, 2017

 

 ST. PAUL – Minnesota Police Officer Jeronimo Yanez (pictured in 2014) was acquitted of manslaughter in the shooting death of black motorist Philando Castile. But he has was also released from employment with the department.

The city of St. Anthony said Friday afternoon that the public “will be best served” if Yanez no longer works for the city.

The decision to dismiss Yanez came after he was found not guilty on all counts related to the incident, reported Fox News.

He was also cleared of two lesser charges of endangering Castile’s girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her daughter for firing his gun into the car near them.

The city plans to offer Yanez something less than termination. They intend to offer “voluntary separation” so he can find another job, but will not return to active duty, according to the police agency.

Yanez pulled over 32-year-old Castile for a broken taillight in July 2016. Castile said he was carrying a firearm, and the officer eventually fired at him five times during the encounter.

The shooting drew widespread attention, since Castile’s girlfriend livestreamed the aftermath on Facebook.

Yanez, who is Latino, “did what he had to do” when he shot Castile, a defense attorney argued during the trial. Yanez testified that he feared for his life after Castile refused to not pull out his gun, despite the officer’s commands.

Prosecutors argued that Yanez never saw the gun, and that he overreacted to a non-threat.

The trial included dash cam video of the traffic stop between the two, but footage did not show what happened in Castile’s car, leaving it up to the jury to believe Yanez’s testimony.

After three white alternates were dismissed after closing arguments, the 12-member jury included two black and ten white people.

In an unrelated incident, St. Paul Police Department arrested Reynolds and two other women in early March after a woman reported being attacked and hit in the head with a hammer. Fox News reported the victim was hospitalized with serious injuries.

Reynolds was charged in Ramsey County with second- and third-degree assault in connection with a Feb. 28 attack, reported the Star Tribune.

The Washington County attorney’s office is prosecuting the case to avoid a conflict of interest with Ramsey County’s criminal case against Yanez.

Here is a timeline of events related to the Castile shooting leading to trial:

July 6: Castile is fatally shot after Yanez stops his car in Falcon Heights. Castile’s girlfriend livestreams the aftermath on Facebook and the widely shared video draws protesters to the scene.

July 7: Protesters converge overnight at Gov. Mark Dayton’s official residence in nearby in St. Paul. The Democratic governor says he doesn’t think the shooting would have happened if Castile had been white. More than 1,000 people gather that evening at the school where Castile worked, and hundreds walk back afterward to the governor’s residence.

July 8: Ramsey County Attorney John Choi says he’ll decide later whether he or a grand jury will decide on any charges against Yanez.

July 9: Attorney Thomas Kelly says Yanez was reacting to the presence of the gun when he opened fire on Castile. He says the shooting had nothing to do with race. Police use chemical irritants to clear rock-and-bottle-throwing demonstrators from Interstate 94 in St. Paul. Officers arrest over 100 people. Police say 21 officers were hurt; none seriously.

July 10: The governor condemns the shutdown of I-94 as “unlawful and extremely dangerous.”

July 11: Forty-six people are charged with rioting for the I-94 protest. Kelly says Yanez thought Castile looked like “a possible match” for a suspect in a recent armed robbery.

July 12: Castile’s family says they will file a lawsuit in his death.

July 13: Police arrest 42 protesters who block traffic on Interstate 35W near downtown Minneapolis during the morning rush.

July 14: A funeral for Castile at the St. Paul Cathedral draws thousands of mourners.

July 26-27: Police arrest 69 protesters outside the governor’s residence as officers clear out the blocked street in front of the mansion.

July 29: Choi adds former U.S. Department of Justice attorney and former Hamline University Law School Don Lewis, who is black, to his team as a special prosecutor in a bid to enhance trust in the results of the investigation.

Aug. 24: The St. Anthony Police Department says it put Yanez back on administrative leave after he had briefly returned to limited duty, citing “concerns and other feedback from the community.”

Sept. 28: The state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension says it has completed its investigation and turned over its findings to Choi.

Nov. 16: Prosecutors announce plans to provide an update about their investigation. The announcement comes one day after the anniversary of the high-profile killing by police of another black man in Minnesota, Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. No charges have been filed in that case.

 

 

 

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