A college professor who set up a fundraiser in 2017 to settle student lunch debts in the St. Paul Public Schools district has agreed to release $120,000 in donations she allegedly kept for herself.
According to Pioneer Press, the fundraiser in question was set up by Pam Fergus to honor Philando Castile – the Black man who was fatally shot by a Minneapolis police officer during a traffic stop in 2016. Castile was a nutrition worker in St. Paul prior to his shooting death.
And though Fergus is said to have raised $200,000 from the 2017 fundraiser, she allegedly did not release all the funds. In June, an enforcement action was filed against her by the Attorney General’s Office. Fergus ultimately reached a settlement agreement, but she did not admit to any wrongdoing.
Per the details of the agreement, the attorney general will receive $120,000 in payments from Fergus. She is expected to pay the entire amount by March 2024. The funds will in turn be paid to the St. Paul Public Schools to settle student lunch debts.
“This settlement helps to ensure that the money donors gave in Philando’s name will go back to where it was intended – to help Saint Paul kids who struggle to pay for school lunches,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said.
“Philando Castile cared deeply about the children he served, and the children loved him back. Failing to use every dollar raised to help those children was an insult to Philando’s legacy and all who loved him.”
The agreement also permanently prohibits Fergus from taking part in charitable endeavors that grant her access to donated funds or any other property, Pioneer Press reported. Spokesman John Stiles said the attorney general’s office will evaluate if Fergus is liable for criminal prosecution.
“In all cases where an AGO charities investigation reveals the potential theft of charitable assets, the AGO seriously evaluates whether a criminal referral is appropriate, and it will do so here. Ultimately, any decision to charge or prosecute this matter is independent of the AGO and up to the discretion of the appropriate criminal law enforcement agency,” Stiles said.
Fergus was a Metropolitan State University teacher when she set up the “Philando Feeds the Children” fundraiser on youcaring.com. The initiative was intended for one of her course projects. And after the donations surpassed its initial $5,000 goal, Fergus started paying off student lunch debts in the district.
But the attorney general alleged Fergus violated state charity laws by not registering as a soliciting charity. She was also accused of not keeping financial records and falsely claiming that she was going to distribute the donated funds to the schools.
Fergus’ charitable initiative was initially supported by Castile’s mother. But she reported the professor to the attorney general after she declined to document how the donated funds had been distributed.