(NewsNation) — Black Lives Matter leaders filed a lawsuit Friday after allegations that an executive stole millions of dollars in donations to the organization and used them as his own “personal piggy bank.”
Twenty-six different BLM chapters filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court claiming that Shalomyah Bowers, the head of the Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation (BLMGNF), a subsidiary of the BLM organization, used $10 million of charitable contributions for his personal use.
The group BLM Grassroots said Bowers defrauded local BLM chapters by siphoning funds away from them and used the money to pay his own consulting business millions in fees.
“Global Network Foundation has been taken away from the people who built it,” she said. “Global Network Foundation is now led by a highly paid consultant who paid himself upwards of $2 million in a single year.”
Bowers was hired by BLM co-founder Patrisse Cullors in 2020 to BMLGNF. Bowers denied the claims made against him in the lawsuit.
In a statement following the press conference, the BLMGNF Board of Directors denied the allegations against Bowers and other leaders, saying they were “disappointed and dismayed at the false narrative” spread by Abdullah and other BLM leaders, who they accused of taking $10,000 per month in personal stipends.
BLMGNF’s attorney provided NewsNation with a statement:
“The allegation in the September 1, 2022 complaint filed by Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots that Shalomyah Bowers and Bowers’ consulting firm siphoned more than $10 million of donors’ money from Black Lives Matter Global Network Foundation is completely false. Either Melina Abdullah and BLM Grassroots blatantly and intentionally lied with this allegation in order to garner salacious news headlines, or they simply failed to do their due diligence before making such a wild and unfounded accusation. Either is simply unacceptable.”
In a statement posted to the BLM website, the organization said the claims are “slanderous and devoid of reality.”
In the lawsuit, the 26 chapters are asking for damages and restitution.
Black Lives Matter has been at the center center of a racial justice movement across the nation since 2013 after the death of Trayvon Martin. After the death of George Floyd in 2020, the BLM movement gained renewed national and international attention.
The organization’s finances since then have come under increased scrutiny, particularly after a chunk of $90 million raised in donations in 2020 was gone.
And in late 2020, a group of 10 original BLM local chapters announced they were severing ties with GNF over a lack of transparency and support.
New York Magazine also reported earlier this year that BLM executives bought a $6 million home with money donated to GNF.
Erika Smith, a Los angeles Times writer who has been following this story, joined NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” Wednesday to discuss what the fallout of a lawsuit of this magnitude may be.
Referencing a recent study from the Pew Research Center that found four in 10 Black Americans believe Black Lives Matter has done “the most to help Black people in recent years” compared to just 17% who named the NAACP and an additional 13% who chose Black churches, Smith said the lawsuit will actually help bring clarity.
“I think a lot of people don’t really know or understand that Black Lives Matter is a movement that is decentralized and there are a lot of people all over the nation all over the world that support it. But it’s also a specific nonprofit that had its share of ups and downs,” Smith said.
“I think one thing this lawsuit is going to do is it’s going to start to make clear what the different facets of this look like. I think that already, since 2020, Black Lives Matter has had some hits taken against it because of speculation of how money is being spent and fighting within the group. So I think this is now starting to spill out into the larger public, so we’ll see how it does have an effect on the movement. I can’t see how it wouldn’t, though,” Smith said.
You can view the full complaint below.
The Hill contributed to this report.