A Boston community organizer who rose to prominence after rallying thousands to protest the killing of George Floyd is under federal investigation for possible misuse of donations to her nonprofit, Violence in Boston Inc., according to three people briefed on the probe.
Monica Cannon-Grant, 41, who started her charity with $1,000 in 2017 and now operates out of a 4,000-square-foot headquarters in Hyde Park, has come under scrutiny as part of an investigation by the US Attorney’s office that led to the October arrest of her husband, Clark Grant, and the raid of their Taunton home.
A federal grand jury recently subpoenaed records from the Suffolk District Attorney’s office, one of many public and private donors to Cannon-Grant’s organization, whose stated mission is “to improve the quality of life and life outcomes of individuals from underserved communities by reducing the prevalence of violence and the impact of associated trauma while addressing social injustices through advocacy and direct services.”
Prosecutors are looking at whether any of the donations or grant money were spent on personal expenses, according to the people briefed on the probe. They spoke on the condition that they not be identified because they are not authorized to speak publicly about an ongoing investigation.
A spokeswoman for the US Attorney’s office, Christina DiIorio-Sterling, said “We don’t confirm or deny investigations.”
Clark Grant, 38, is accused of committing COVID unemployment fraud and making false statements on a mortgage application. Federal prosecutors allege he collected $67,950 in COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits between May 2020 and September 2021 although he was employed full time during that period, according to a 15-page criminal complaint.
Grant also listed the nonprofit’s bank account as his own personal account when applying for a $402,573 mortgage for the house he and his wife bought in July, according to the complaint.
Cannon-Grant, a mother of six, has emerged as a prominent figure in the Black Lives Matter movement in recent years. 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 formed a collaboration with the restaurant Food for the Soul in Dorchester to distribute more than 1,000 free meals a day to people struggling during the pandemic.
For her efforts, she was honored as a Bostonian of the Year by the Boston Globe Magazine and hailed as the city’s “best social justice advocate” by Boston Magazine.
When contacted by the Globe on Thursday about the investigation, Cannon-Grant said, “I’m clueless to what you’re talking about. I have no comment. I probably should talk to my lawyers.”
However, later that day she acknowledged the investigation and defended herself on a Web radio show that aired from a studio in her headquarters. She alleged she is being targeted by the government, white supremacists, and a small group of Black people who are jealous of her success.
She said Violence in Boston had grown from an organization with between $40,000 and $50,000 two years ago to “a multimillion-dollar organization.”
“More money, more problems,” said Cannon-Grant. When she was working out of a kitchen and parking lots, “nobody paid me any mind,” she said. But after she received “awards and accolades,” some people felt she didn’t deserve them and she became a target, she said.
In a statement, Violence in Boston’s lawyer, Rob Goldstein, said “We don’t know the nature or scope of any investigation but can confirm that both Monica and Violence in Boston are fully cooperating with any and all informational requests so that any investigation can be swiftly wrapped up and Monica and Violence in Boston can focus solely on their important work.”
The Globe could not verify certain financial information for Violence in Boston because the nonprofit appears not to have filed some of the federal tax documents required of public charities. Its only federal tax return, filed in 2020, said that the organization had raised and spent $85,000 in the previous year. No salaries were reported.
In an affidavit filed in Clark Grant’s case, a federal Department of Labor agent said the organization had more than $447,000 in its checking account.
Federal prosecutors recently subpoenaed the records of the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office, which in 2019 awarded Violence in Boston a $6,000 grant to take local youths on a trip.
That summer, then Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins announced she had awarded $100,000 in grants to 21 nonprofits in all. The money came out of the office’s asset forfeiture fund, money seized in drug or other arrests.
“Our communities are stronger thanks to the dedication of our nonprofits and their staff who work daily to prevent youth violence and substance use and who focus on improving the mental health of our young people in Suffolk County,” Rollins said in a news release at the time.
The federal investigation into Cannon-Grant began while Rollins, who became US Attorney for Massachusetts in January, was the Suffolk district attorney, officials said.
Federal prosecutors subpoenaed e-mails and other records from the asset forfeiture fund, an official said.
In a statement, the office of Suffolk District Attorney Kevin Hayden said, “We are aware of the investigation ... and are cooperating fully.”
“We have suspended all external expenditures from the asset forfeiture fund pending an internal review of procedures and controls,” the statement said.
Under Department of Justice rules, Rollins would probably be recused from the investigation because of the potential conflict of interest.
Others who provided grants to Violence in Boston include the city of Boston, which awarded a $53,977 grant in 2020, and the Cummings Foundation, which is donating $100,000 over three years.
Cummings Foundation executive director Joyce Vyriotes said her foundation donated to Violence in Boston to help cover its general operating expenses and the launch of a program called Transcend, which helps men who were formerly incarcerated or involved in the court system. She said the group is expected to file a report on how the funds were used in April.
She said she was unaware of any federal investigation.
The grant from Boston’s Resiliency Fund was to be used to provide 1,000 hot meals to Boston residents each day.
After the Globe requested comment last week, Cannon-Grant urged her supporters on Twitter to e-mail the Globe in her defense. Several supporters came forward to vouch for Cannon-Grant and criticize the Globe for writing about the federal investigation.
Gary Dantzler, founder of Black Lives Matter Rhode Island, said “there’s no way” Cannon-Grant could have misused donations.
“There’s no way a woman with these accolades could do this,” he said in a phone interview. He alleged that Black people jealous over Cannon-Grant’s success were behind the investigation.
“This has nothing to do with white America,” he said. “It’s Black America. Black America is fighting amongst each other for the crumbs. The community was upset about her progress. It’s not a lot of Black people. It’s just a few. They ambushed her and told lies about her. ‘She stole money.’ That’s false. That’s a lie. She didn’t steal anything. The Black people who said that about her are seriously dead wrong and they should be ashamed of themselves. She came to the aid of each last one of them.”
Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com. Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph.