Florida university now suspects $237 million gift from hemp entrepreneur is bogus

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A Florida university that received a $237 million “gift” from a Texas hemp entrepreneur likely won’t cash in on the pledge, school officials have indicated.

The donation to Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), which was announced with fanfare in May, appears to have been a stunt for public relations by Gregory Gerami of Texas-based Batterson Farms Corp., who the school initially described as a “champion of sustainable agriculture and biodegradable hemp products.”

University administrators now say the gift, in the form of “private illiquid” shares in a Gerami entity, has been put on hold after they discovered there was no independent review of its value or any assets underlying it.

School official resigns

The school’s vice president for University Advancement and executive director of the FAMU Foundation, Shawnta Friday-Stroud, who managed the 10-year pledge offer, resigned from those positions amid the controversy, but will remain dean of the university’s School of Business & Industry.

From left: Shawnta Friday-Stroud, who has now stepped down as Vice President for University Advancement and Executive Director of the FAMU Foundation; Batterson Farms Corp CEO Gregory Gerami; and FAMU President Larry Robinson. (Photo: FAMU)

Later investigation found that Gerami was tied to an earlier $95 million pledge to Coastal Carolina University, a deal that eventually collapsed, according to the Myrtle Beach Sun News.

The gift to FAMU was announced during this year’s commencement at the school, one of the top-ranked historically black colleges and universities in the country. Present for the ceremony, Gerami told the gathering “The money is in the bank.”

In an original statement announcing the pledge, FAMU said Gerami deposited 14 million shares into the university’s account in April, identifying them as a gift from the Issac Batterson Family 7th Trust. At a press conference hosted by FAMU after the gift announcement, Gerami declined to answer questions on his net worth or to provide specific figures for his business.

Dubious claims

Gerami has touted himself as “the youngest African American producer and seed seller” in Texas. Records show that his company held a state producer’s license as of December 2023.

He claimed Batterson Farms has offices in San Antonio and Van Horn, Texas, a town of 2,000 people about 120 miles east of El Paso. Texas Secretary of State records list a small, single-story home in suburban San Antonio as the company’s address, although Gerami claimed Batterson Farms employs 7,000 workers.

Last year, Batterson Farms announced it would build the largest commercial hydroponic hemp facility in West Texas city of Muleshoe, but officials there say nothing has come of the project.

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