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Founders of Boston anti-violence nonprofit charged with fraud04:50
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Monica Cannon-Grant is surrounded by news media as she leaves the Moakley Courthouse after her arraignment in federal court. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Monica Cannon-Grant is surrounded by news media as she leaves the Moakley Courthouse after her arraignment in federal court. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

A scathing federal grand jury indictment alleges that one of Boston's most prominent social justice activists committed fraud, spending donations to her nonprofit on herself and her husband while they both collected pandemic unemployment benefits.

The 38-page indictment, returned Tuesday from the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney's Office, charges Monica Cannon-Grant with using money raised for her nonprofit Violence in Boston to enrich herself and her husband Clark Grant.

During an appearance in federal court Tuesday, Cannon-Grant was released on her own recognizance and ordered to abide by conditions including that she not be involved with the organization's finances and not apply for any loans or grants.

The indictment alleges that between 2017 and 2021, Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant  "solicited and received over a million dollars in donations and grants from individuals, charitable institutions, and other entities through fundraising" for VIB. The couple are accused of using VIB funds for personal expenses such as financing their mortgage, taking vacations and buying a car for relative.

"Beginning at least as early as 2017, Cannon-Grant, Clark Grant, and coconspirators known and unknown to the Grand Jury, agreed to use VIB as a vehicle to personally enrich themselves and their designees," the indictment reads. "Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant diverted VIB monies to themselves through cash withdrawals, cashed checks, wire transfers to their personal bank accounts, and debit purchases, among other methods."

With the newly announced charges, Grant and Cannon-Grant could face prison time of up to 20 years for each of the wire fraud conspiracy counts.

She and her husband are expected to be arraigned next week. When she left the federal courthouse, Cannon-Grant did not speak to the reporters waiting outside and was quickly escorted into a waiting car.

Cannon-Grant's lawyer Rob Goldstein said the indictment was rushed and he expects Cannon-Grant to be vindicated.

"We are extremely disappointed the government rushed to judgment here. VIB and Monica have been fully cooperating and their production of records remains ongoing," Goldstein said in a statement. "Drawing conclusions from an incomplete factual record does not represent the fair and fully informed process a citizen deserves from its government, especially someone like Monica who has worked tirelessly on behalf of her community."

Although it appears that VIB was raising significant funds by 2020, Cannon-Grant and her husband began collecting pandemic related unemployment benefits, according to the indictment. They are charged with claiming they did not receive compensation from their work for VIB. The indictment says Cannon-Grant began issuing herself a weekly $2,788 salary from VIB and collected more than $25,000 in salary in 2020 and more than $170,000 in 2021.

"In 2020, VIB began to collect significantly more money in charitable donations," the indictment reads. "For example, the VIB Bank Account received approximately $50,000 in donations in the month of April 2020, alone, its largest monthly collection amount at the time. With this larger influx of VIB funds, Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant began to help themselves to greater amounts from the VIB Bank Account."

The couple received close to $100,000 in pandemic funds while Cannon-Grant was also receiving tens of thousands of dollars as a diversity consultant, according to the indictment. To receive the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits, Cannon-Grant is accused of claiming that her place of employment was closed because of the pandemic.

"Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant used their fraudulently obtained PUA benefits to help pay for plane tickets, new furniture, Amazon purchases, and help defray the costs for a motorcycle for Clark Grant, among other household and personal expenditures," the indictment charges.

One example of the alleged misuse of public funds cited in Tuesday's indictment is a $6,000 grant from the Suffolk County District Attorney's Office to take at-risk youth to a violence prevention retreat in Philadelphia Pennsylvania in 2019. No VIB bank activity was reported in Philadelphia but in Maryland. "Neither Cannon-Grant nor Clark Grant disclosed to VIB directors that they had used the MDAO $6,000 grant to pay for their July 2019 personal vacation to Columbia, MD."

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Instead, the indictment charges, the $6,000 grant was used "to pay for, among other things, $145 at a Boston nail salon; over $400 in grocery and Walmart purchases in Columbia, MD; hundreds of dollars in meal costs in Connecticut, New Jersey, and Maryland, including at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Shake Shack, and other restaurants; $1,211 in charges at the Sonesta Suites, Columbia, MD; hundreds of dollars in fuel, parking, and car rental costs; and hundreds of dollars in ATM withdrawals."

The grant was awarded under former Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins, who is now the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney prosecuting this case. Rollins has been recused from the case "as a matter of policy," and First Assistant Josh Levy will represent the Department of Justice instead, according to a department spokesperson.

Current Suffolk County DA Kevin Hayden, who was appointed to serve the remainder of Rollins term, has said the office's asset forfeiture fund, from which the grant to VIB was awarded, has been suspended and is now subject to an "internal review."

A Boston spokesperson said the city has received a subpoena and is complying. The city gave VIB more than $55,000 from 2018-2020 for violence prevention programs and a pandemic-related food program.

Cannon-Grant rose to prominence through her activism following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis in 2020. She organized a march in Franklin Park that drew thousands of people to protest the deaths of Black people at the hands of police. She also formed a collaboration with the restaurant Food for the Soul in Dorchester to distribute free meals to people during the pandemic.

For her efforts, she was honored as a Bostonian of the Year by The Boston Globe Magazine and Boston Magazine named her the city’s “best social justice advocate." Cannon-Grant has also been featured by WBUR, including in reporting about social justice advocacy and policing.

Boston activist Jamarhl Crawford, who has sparred with Cannon-Grant over social media, said he's not surprised by the indictment. Crawford is concerned about the effect the charges will have on other nonprofits doing similar work and whether they will now have to work to regain trust in the community.

"Because she was the popular figure, she sucked a lot of the funds out where that money could have been donated to — people who really did the work and are trustworthy stewards of the donations that they're given," Crawford said. "But at the end of the day this is a tragedy, this is a family."

With reporting by WBUR's Vanessa Ochavillo

This article was originally published on March 15, 2022.

This segment aired on March 15, 2022.

Deborah Becker Twitter Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.

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