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Boston activist Monica Cannon-Grant and husband plead not guilty to fraud charges

One of Boston's most prominent social justice activists was formally arraigned Tuesday on fraud and conspiracy charges.

Monica Cannon-Grant and her husband, Clark Grant, are accused of defrauding donors to their nonprofit Violence in Boston (VIB), fraudulently obtaining pandemic-related unemployment benefits and making false statements to a mortgage lender. The couple appeared virtually before Judge Judith Dein at Boston federal court Tuesday.

Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant entered not guilty pleas to the 18-count indictment. A status hearing is scheduled on May 23.

Neither Cannon-Grant nor Clark Grant spoke Tuesday except to enter their not guilty pleas and say they reviewed the charges with their attorneys.

The federal indictment filed on March 14 alleged the nonprofit collected more than $1 million in donations and grants between 2017 and 2021, and the couple used the funds for personal expenses.

"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," the complaint said.

Monica Cannon-Grant speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally at Madison Park High School on Martin Luther King Day in 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Monica Cannon-Grant speaks at a Black Lives Matter rally at Madison Park High School on Martin Luther King Day in 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Cannon-Grant was known for her grassroots organizing and led some of the largest social justice rallies in Boston, particularly after the 2020 police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. She also helped provide food to people during the pandemic.

Her nonprofit, Violence in Boston, saw its most significant fundraising gains in 2020, raising more than $50,000 in a single month in April that year. Bank transactions highlighted in the federal complaint suggested that as more money was donated to Violence in Boston, more of the funds were distributed to the couple to pay for housing, UberEats orders and the purchase of a car for a family member.

The city of Boston and the Suffolk County district attorney's office were among the entities that donated to the nonprofit. Violence in Boston received a grant totaling more than $53,000 from the Boston Resiliency Fund in 2020, as well as a $6,000 grant from the Suffolk DA's office for a violence prevention program in 2019. Prosecutors said much of the $6,000 grant was spent on the couple's personal vacation to Maryland; all of it was spent in about a month.

The complaint detailed some of the alleged expenses:

"VIB Bank Account records showed that CANNON-GRANT and CLARK GRANT used the $6,000 MDAO [Massachusetts District Attorney's Office] check 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. By July 31, 2019, the VIB Bank Account had a negative balance of -$552.38."

Prosecutors said the couple concealed from Violence in Boston directors that they were using donated monies from the nonprofit's bank account and PayPal account for personal expenses.

"The principal purpose of the conspiracy and scheme to defraud was to personally enrich CANNON-GRANT, CLARK GRANT with VIB money, while concealing such personal expenditures from VIB directors, officers and others," the complaint said.

Cannon-Grant's attorney, Rob Goldstein, declined to comment after the arraignment. He previously released a statement saying the government "rushed to judgement" in its case.

"VIB and Monica have been fully cooperating and their production of records remains ongoing," Goldstein's earlier statement said. "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. We remain fully confident Monica will be vindicated when a complete factual record emerges."

Records from Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey's office indicated that three complaints were filed against the nonprofit in 2020 and 2021. The complaints alleged that VIB failed to respond to the city of Boston's request for information about how it handled city grants, and that Violence in Boston did not file required financial forms with the government. The AG's office said it warned the nonprofit last year that it was not in compliance with the filings.

The federal complaint also alleged both Cannon-Grant and her husband claimed their places of employment closed in 2020 due to the pandemic, and that they did not have earnings of more than $89 in any work week, as was required to be eligible for unemployment benefits. While collecting those benefits and providing weekly certifications they were not being paid, the complaint alleged the couple received salaries from different sources.

One example cited in the complaint was that Cannon-Grant was paid $75,000 to provide diversity, equity and inclusion consulting to an unnamed Boston media business while collecting unemployment.

Federal prosecutors alleged Cannon-Grant collected more than $33,000 in benefits and her husband collected more than $65,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits between May 2020 and September 2021.

"Cannon-Grant and Clark Grant used their fraudulently obtained PUA [pandemic unemployment assistance] 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 complaint said.

According to the complaint, in October of 2020 Cannon-Grant began issuing herself a weekly salary of more than $2,700 from her nonprofit. Those salary payments totaled more than $25,000 in 2020 and more than $170,000 in 2021.

Clark Grant was a director of Violence in Boston and worked for a commuter service company as a track laborer. Citing his federal tax returns, the complaint said he earned more than $60,000 in 2020 and more than $41,000 in 2021 from the commuter service company.

Clark Grant was arrested at the couple's home in October of last year and charged with pandemic unemployment and mortgage fraud. He is being represented by public defender Julie-Ann Olson.

Prosecutors also alleged the couple fraudulently applied for a mortgage and listed assets belonging to the nonprofit as their own to obtain a more than $400,000 home loan. Cannon-Grant is accused of issuing herself checks from Violence in Boston to help obtain the mortgage.

During Tuesday's hearing, prosecutors outlined the maximum penalties for the charges, which include up to 30 years in prison, five years of supervised release and up to $1 million in fines.

This article was originally published on March 29, 2022.

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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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