Rattler Ruckus: FAMU Foundation Exec Resigns Amid $237 Million Gregory Gerami Donation Debacle

The more we learn—or don’t learn—about the massive $237,750,000 donation gifted to Florida A&M University by Gregory Gerami, the “CEO” of Isaac Batterson Seventh Family Trust, the more dubious the act of generosity sounds, which is why the act has turned into a Whole drama for every FAMU administrator and board member involved in the matter.  

Whew, where do we even start?

FAMU: Florida A&M

Source: Zack Wittman for The Washington Post via Getty Images / Getty


Shawnta Friday-Stroud, FAMU’s vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation, has just resigned from her position due to her role in “the decision that about half a dozen FAMU officials made to accept Batterson Farms Corp. CEO Gregory Gerami’s major gift without informing other key stakeholders of the university, including members of the FAMU Foundation Board of Directors and the Board of Trustees,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

The announcement that Friday-Stroud, who will remain dean of FAMU’s School of Business & Industry, resigned from the foundation was made by FAMU President Larry Robinson, who also announced during the virtual Board of Trustees special meeting that the gift transaction had been “ceased,” which he said days after he had already announced the donation had been put on hold.

From the Democrat:

It wasn’t clear, however, what exactly Robinson meant, including whether the gift was being declined; a university spokesperson reached later Wednesday said he was unable to explain Robinson’s remark.

Robinson made the announcements as he took responsibility for the poor vetting of the donor who was honored as the keynote speaker at a spring graduation ceremony and the crisis of confidence that has clouded what should have been a pinnacle moment.

“I wanted it to be real and ignored the warning signs along the way,” Robinson told the board. “The public announcement at commencement was premature at best, and I apologize to all who witnessed it and shared their joy and jubilation.”

“It is my belief that with the guidance of this board, we will arrive at a process much more transparent when it comes to such large gifts in the future,” he added.

Meanwhile, the process of vetting Gerami is also proving to be more of an eyebrow-raiser by the day.

According to AL.com, Gerami, until recently, had a woman named Kim Abbott, known publicly as Kim Rafferty, listed as co-CEO of Gerami’s hemp company, Batterson Farms, Corp. Abbot is a former two-term Birmingham City Councilor who served in the role between 2009 and 2017. She’s also the “caretaker of two children, two grandmothers, an ailing first husband (the grandmothers and husband have passed; Abbott has remarried), and ‘a chocolate lab puppy that’s eating me out of house and home,'” AL.com reported. However, what Kim Abbott isn’t and has, apparently, never been is the co-CEO of Batterson Farms, Corp.

“I’m a stay-at-home mom. I would have never been able to be a CEO of anything,” she said recently. “And those were my words to [Gerami].”

“I didn’t give him permission to put my picture on the website,” she ent on to say. “I didn’t give him permission to put my name on the website. [My name] was just a placeholder. I never conducted business. All he did was call me and ask for advice. That’s not a CEO.”

Asked about Abbott’s denial that she was ever a co-CEO of his company, Gerami implied that she was CEO at one point, but isn’t anymore. Actually, he was pretty vague and nondescript about what role, if any, she has played in his business as of late.

“Miss Rafferty is a great person, a very smart woman. And I hope you report this: She’s a very smart woman in a lot of ways — very good and thorough at a lot of things. So, when we created Batterson Farms we thought Kim would be a great fit to be our co-CEO because she had a governmental relations background and we’re dealing a lot in government and agriculture and products. We thought that she would be a great fit for those things.

“But she hasn’t been co-CEO for a while,” he continued. “Now I wouldn’t say she hasn’t been affiliated with the company, but she hasn’t been co-CEO for a while. We just forgot to take her off the page. She wasn’t [listed as co-CEO] on the board [of directors] page, but on that particular page, where her name was, we just forgot to take her off.”

Of course, one question Gerami said he “cannot” provide answers to is the 237 million dollar question: What is the status of the donation?

In fact, so far, that is not a question anyone has been able to answer. The Board of Trustees’ special meeting reportedly lasted nearly two hours and was scheduled in an effort to answer the myriad of questions board members had, but, apparently, that never happened, according to Vice Chair Deveron Gibbons.

“We are here today to do one thing, and that is to find out the facts related to this particular donation — what happened and when it happened,” Gibbons said during the meeting. “I’m sitting here with over 100 questions that are written down here right now.”

“This should not have happened and in light of that, we need to get the facts,” he added. “This is uncomfortable, and I’m upset that I have to sit here and be doing this right now when all it took was normal due diligence.”

According to the Democrat, what’s under internal investigation isn’t even whether or not the money is really there. Instead, it will determine what happened during the process that led to accepting the donation, and whether proper protocol was followed. Board members like Gibson were frustrated that discussion about the investigation consumed the meeting and questions about the donation itself went unanswered.

In fact, the handling of this donation has been so janky that Board of Trustees Chair Kristin Harper, who was seen emotionally celebrating the donation on video at the time it was announced, said that due to a non-disclosure agreement, she was not included in the inner circle that knew about the details of the gift, despite the fact that she signed the gift agreement.

“I fully support your decision to cease this transaction. I only wish the decision would have been made during the six months spent on developing the gift and before a public announcement would have been made that could tarnish the reputation of this university,” she told Robinson after blasting him for putting her “on the spot” and using her “for a convenient photo or video op for a gift that I knew nothing about.”

I mean, isn’t the more pressing question why, as the chair of the Board of Trustees, Harper didn’t know anything about the donation even after the “six months” she mentioned?

So, basically, everyone is left with more questions than answers, and that, apparently, includes everyone who should be in the know.

It’s just a mess.