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VP resigns amid backlash over failed CCU donor’s questionable gift to FL University. What’s next?

A senior Florida A&M official resigned Wednesday as fallout from the university’s recent announcement of a questionable donation continues.

Shawnta Friday-Stroud resigned as the Tallahassee school’s vice president for university advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation, university President Larry Robinson said during Thursday’s board of trustees meeting.

Friday-Stroud, who remains at FAMU as dean of the business school, has faced criticism for her involvement in allowing donor Gregory Gerami to present a check for more than $237 million at the university’s graduation ceremony on 4th of May. Gerami was also a commencement speaker at the event.

Public criticism since the announcement has been constant as more information has emerged, casting doubt on the reported wealth of the CEO of a Texas hemp farming company. The donation to FAMU turned out to be private stock in Gerami’s company, Batterson Farms Corp.

Gregory Gerami (third from left) poses for a photo with Florida A&M University officials after announcing a historic $237 million donation to the school.  After public skepticism about the wealth of the Texas hemp farm CEO, officials admitted the gift may be worthless, and Shawnta Friday-Stroud (second from left) resigned as vice president for university advancement.

The Sun News previously identified Gerami as the anonymous donor who pledged $95 million to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 before CCU ended that relationship just months later.

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Gerami told The Sun News on Friday that he does regret Friday-Stroud, who he considers a friend, losing her position. He claims his donation is worth about $237 million, although he admits there has been no external valuation of the shares yet.

What happened at the FAMU board meeting?

Robinson began Thursday’s meeting telling the board he accepted full responsibility for the situation.

“I wanted it to be real and ignored some warning signs along the way,” he said.

FAMU initially matched the largest donation ever to a historically black college or university, issuing a press release the day after the announcement that it had “done its due diligence.” Officials have since admitted the shares may be worthless.

But Robinson told the board Friday that information he received last Wednesday showed the gift “was not what it seemed,” so he stopped processing the donation and instructed his staff to cease all communications with Gerami.

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Reached by phone Friday, a university spokesperson declined to explain what information Robinson received or what the pause on the donation means, as FAMU has previously stated that the shares have already been transferred to them.

Gregory Gerami (left), president and CEO of Batterson Farms Corp, shakes hands with Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University.  Gerami recently announced a $237 million donation to FAMU, the largest ever for a historically black college or university.  But many are skeptical after a similar donation he pledged to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 fell through.Gregory Gerami (left), president and CEO of Batterson Farms Corp, shakes hands with Larry Robinson, president of Florida A&M University.  Gerami recently announced a $237 million donation to FAMU, the largest ever for a historically black college or university.  But many are skeptical after a similar donation he pledged to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 fell through.

Thursday’s meeting was spent mostly discussing details of a possible investigation into how FAMU officials came to accept Gerami’s donation and gave him the floor at commencement to announce the gift.

Board President Kristin Harper and other board members were critical of Robinson for not telling them about the donation until after it was publicly announced. FAMU officials have previously said this was due to a nondisclosure agreement that Gerami insisted they sign in order to move forward.

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“(We) should never have been surprised by a gift of this magnitude,” Harper said.

Board members initially planned to ask Robinson and Friday-Stroud questions about the process during Thursday’s meeting, but board member Belvin Perry said that could jeopardize the independent outside investigation they were seeking.

The board unanimously passed a motion to hire an outside firm to conduct a full investigation and recommend corrective action.

Does Gregory Gerami have any regrets?

Gerami told The Sun News on Friday that he did not see the meeting, and he believes any criticism of him is premature as there has not been any third-party valuation of the shares. His company is in the process of hiring a qualified appraiser, he said.

“If the rating supports (our reported value) of the gift, what will (critics) say?” he asked.

When asked if he believes the donation announcement was premature, Gerami said if university policies are not followed, that is not his problem because it is not his job to know those policies.

“In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to have all your ducks in a row,” he said.

Gregory Gerami (fourth from left), president and CEO of Batterson Farms Corp, recently announced a $237 million donation to Florida A&M University during the school's 2024 graduation ceremony.  It is the largest ever for a historically black college or university.  But many are skeptical after a similar donation he pledged to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 fell through.Gregory Gerami (fourth from left), president and CEO of Batterson Farms Corp, recently announced a $237 million donation to Florida A&M University during the school's 2024 graduation ceremony.  It is the largest ever for a historically black college or university.  But many are skeptical after a similar donation he pledged to Coastal Carolina University in 2020 fell through.

When asked if he regrets the situation with FAMU, he took a long pause before answering: “I don’t know; that’s a tough one.”

Gerami later called back to answer the question, telling The Sun News that he feels bad that the situation has developed the way it has, but that doesn’t mean he regrets anything he’s done.

“My goal was to tell my story of adversity, adoption, dealing with disabilities, dreams and building my business the way I did,” he said. “To be able to give back was obviously the goal. It was intended to be transformational for FAMU. … I regret that the response has reached this point.”

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