Minneapolis, MN

Minneapolis professor accused of stealing charity funds raised in honor of Philando Castile

Amy Christie

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A Minneapolis professor who started a charity to raise funds in honor of a black man killed by the police has been accused of stealing and using the money for herself.

Philando Castile was shot and passed away in 2016 during a traffic stop by a police officer in Minnesota. His death inspired Black Lives Matter protests, particularly after the officer was acquitted by a jury on manslaughter charges in June of the following year.

The case also inspired professor Pam Fergus to start collecting funds in order to pay for students’ lunch debts. The charity was called “Philando Feeds the Children.”

The professor was known to pay the lunch debts for kids personally while working as nutrition supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School.

Based on a civil complaint, Fergus is accused of misappropriating most of the funds she obtained through the charity.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison revealed during a civil enforcement action in Ramsey County District Court that the professor has not been able to explain where most of the funds she obtained have gone.

“Philando Castile cared deeply about the children he served, and the children loved Mr. Phil right back. Raising money supposedly to serve those children, then not doing so, is an insult to Philando's legacy and all who loved him,” Ellison stated.

Fergus is accused of the following:

  • breach of charitable trust,
  • deceptive solicitation of charitable contributions,
  • failure to maintain proper records, and
  • unregistered solicitation of contributions.

The legal filing specifies that Fergus initially had as her goal to get $5,000 for the charity. This was meant to be a semester project for her class.

When the campaign brought in thousands more than expected and began to get national attention from the media, Fergus decided to keep it going. The professor is accused of obtaining more than $200,000 in donations while only cutting three checks for school lunches with the total value of $80,000.

Philando Castile's mother sounded the alarm

It was Philando Castile's mother who figured out something was amiss. That happened when Fergus refused to provide an accounting of the donations to her.

“Unmistakably, throughout decades people have capitalized on people's grief and pain and suffering,” Valerie Castile said.

In 2018 Fergus said for the Washington Post the campaign was going very well and that she would not stop raising funds to help all children.

“I don't think there's an end in sight. I want a million dollars in that account,” the Minneapolis professor said at the time.

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