ST. PAUL, Minn. — 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 of the $200,000 she raised on the intended purpose, Minnesota’s attorney general said Thursday.
The Star Tribune reported that Minnesota Attorney General Keith 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.
“Philando Castile cared deeply about the children he served and the children loved Mr. Phil right back,” said Ellison, calling Castile a “hero” in his lunchroom. “Raising money supposedly to serve those children, then not doing so, is an insult to Philando’s legacy and all who loved him.”
Fergus did not immediately respond to phone and email messages left by the newspaper Thursday. Online court records do not list an attorney to comment on her behalf.
Fergus, a professor at Metropolitan State University, created the “Philando Feeds the Children” online crowdfunding effort a year after Castile, a 32-year-old Black elementary school cafeteria worker, was fatally shot by a suburban police officer during a July 2016 traffic stop. The shooting gained widespread attention after Castile’s girlfriend, who was in the car, livestreamed its gruesome aftermath on Facebook. St. Anthony Officer Jeronimo Yanez, who is Latino, was later acquitted of manslaughter, which prompted days of protests.
Castile was known to pay out of pocket for children whose families could not afford to buy their own lunches when he worked as a nutrition supervisor at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in St. Paul. Fergus started the campaign as a semester project for her class, promising that “every dollar” donated would help pay down student lunch debts.
According to the civil complaint, Fergus deposited the more than $200,000 she collected through the YouCaring website into her personal checking account. She also allegedly welcomed donors to mail her checks.
St. Paul Public Schools reported that Fergus wrote three checks from her group’s proceeds to go to the district totaling more than $80,000 between October 2017 and August 2018. But the remaining $120,000 was not accounted for, court papers said.
Ellison described the enforcement action as a “last resort” to find out what happened to the remaining funds, after Fergus refused to comply with an investigation by his office last year.