In a June 2019 ceremony at the Suffolk district attorney’s office, Monica Cannon-Grant was handed a check for $6,000, a grant awarded to her nonprofit, Violence in Boston Inc., to take a group of at-risk young men to a retreat in Philadelphia.
The trip was meant “to give these young men exposure to communities outside of the violence riddled neighborhoods that they navigate daily” and focus on community-building activities and coping skills, according to her grant proposal.
But the trip never happened, federal prosecutors say. Instead, they allege, Cannon-Grant and her husband, Clark Grant, spent the grant money on themselves — taking a vacation to Maryland, dining at Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., Shake Shack, and other restaurants, and paying for car rentals, groceries, Walmart purchases, and visits to a Boston nail salon.
On Tuesday, the prominent community organizer who has emerged as a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement was arrested at her Taunton home on charges she and her husband raised more than $1 million in grants and donations for people in need, but took a substantial amount of it for themselves. Some of it was also used to pay rent on their Boston apartment and buy a car for a relative, prosecutors said.
Cannon-Grant, 41, and her husband, Clark, 38, are charged in an 18-count indictment with three separate schemes: defrauding donors; illegally collecting an estimated $100,000 in pandemic unemployment benefits, and lying on a mortgage application.
The indictment marks the first time Cannon-Grant has been implicated in the fraudulent schemes and brings additional charges against her husband, who was arrested in October by federal agents who raided their Taunton home. He was previously charged with illegally collecting pandemic unemployment benefits and making false statements on a mortgage application.
The nonprofit started off small in 2017, operating out of Cannon-Grant’s Roxbury home, but by 2020 had moved to a sprawling headquarters in Hyde Park. Donations poured in, as the group received more than $50,000 in April 2020 alone, prosecutors allege.
While Cannon-Grant reported to the IRS and the state attorney general’s charity division that she received no salary, prosecutors said that in October 2020 she started paying herself $2,788 a week.
On Tuesday, she appeared briefly before US Magistrate Judge Judith Dein, who released her on personal recognizance and told her she may continue to work at Violence in Boston, which runs a food pantry two days a week, but cannot handle the organization’s finances.
Cannon-Grant will be arraigned on the charges next week.
Outside Boston’s federal courthouse, Cannon-Grant, who has proclaimed her innocence on social media and a Web radio show, declined to comment. In a statement, her lawyer, Robert Goldstein, said ‘we are extremely disappointed the government rushed to judgment here.”
“VIB [Violence in Boston] and Monica have been fully cooperating and their production of records remains ongoing. 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.”
Prosecutors didn’t say how much money received by Violence in Boston was diverted into the Grants’ personal accounts.
Cannon-Grant rose to prominence in 2020 after organizing a march in Franklin Park that drew thousands to protest the killing of George Floyd and other Black people at the hands of police. She formed a collaboration with a Dorchester restaurant to distribute more than 1,000 free meals a day to people struggling during the pandemic.
For her efforts, the mother of six 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.
On Violence in Boston’s website, the organization’s 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.”
Donald Osgood, one of Cannon-Grant’s many supporters for her work in the community, said the charges did not change his feelings.
“My opinion stands as I know her work,” he said in an e-mail to the Globe. “She has helped way too many people and innocent until proven guilty is the American way. She has provided food, Ubers, hotels to many of the clients she served since doing this work. A lot of the things she’s done for the community were out of pocket expenses and others chipping in. Let’s see where this goes. I still have faith in her work which she continues to do even under these circumstances.”
US Attorney Rachael Rollins, who awarded Violence in Boston the $6,000 grant when she was Suffolk district attorney, is recused from the case under Department of Justice policy related to conflicts of interest and declined to comment, according to a spokeswoman for her office.
Her successor as district attorney, Kevin Hayden, said through a spokesman that all recipients of similar grants paid through the office’s asset forfeiture fund have been notified they must file reports detailing how the money was spent.
“This is a disturbing violation of the public trust and should not reflect on the organizations that used asset forfeiture funds for their intended purpose,” said Hayden’s spokesman, Jim Borghesani.
Rayla Campbell, a Randolph Republican who was targeted by Cannon-Grant during her unsuccessful campaign against US Representative Ayanna Pressley, called the charges “a good day for justice and I’m hopeful this can help expose how certain groups and individuals have exploited a movement meant to bring about meaningful change and turn it into the politics of personal destruction and hatred.”
“Many media outlets, politicians, and citizens donated and heaped praise upon this person AFTER she viciously attacked me in a racial tirade online. I get no pleasure in seeing the most underserved communities get taken advantage of and even worse perhaps go without needed food assistance and resources because of this. They are the ones who suffer the most.”
Joyce Vyriotes, executive director of the Cummings Foundation, which has pledged $100,000 over three years, said the group is cooperating with authorities.
“Because Violence in Boston’s next grant installment (its second of three payments) is not scheduled to occur until late June, no decision on its potential distribution has yet been made. We will be following the investigation closely,” she said in an e-mail.
Boston officials, who awarded Violence in Boston a $53,977 grant in 2020, did not respond to requests for comment.
Prosecutors also alleged the couple received pandemic unemployment benefits while Cannon-Grant was receiving tens of thousands of dollars in “diversity” consulting fees from private companies, including $75,000 from a Boston media company that is not named in the indictment but has been identified as the Phantom Gourmet television program. The company couldn’t be reached for comment Tuesday.
Cannon-Grant received $33,426 in pandemic funds, the indictment said, while Grant collected $67,950 in benefits, even though he had a full-time job for a transportation company.
“Unemployment caught my ass. Asked me to provide documents by June unless I’ll have to pay it all back,” Cannon-Grant texted her husband on March 26, 2021, authorities alleged.
Shelley Murphy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @shelleymurph. Andrea Estes can be reached at email@example.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.