USA

Man Spent Donations to Black Lives Matter on Himself, Prosecutors Say

ATLANTA — The donations poured in this summer as Black Lives Matter marchers surged through the streets of Atlanta and across the country, protesting the use of aggressive force by the police and demanding more action to scrub out the deep stain of institutional racism.

Donors gave $36,493 in June to an organization that called itself Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta. In July, it took in $370,934. In August, $59,915. The money, the group said, would go to support the movement.

Instead, federal investigators found that the money was spent on nights out and nice clothes. The man running the organization, Sir Maejor Page, appeared on social media wearing tailored suits with cuff links and ties that he bragged had cost $150, staying in luxury hotel rooms. “My room way up at the top,” he boasted. “At the top top.”

He also used the donated money, the authorities said, to buy a house and land — not in Atlanta, but where he actually lived, in Toledo, Ohio.

Mr. Page, 32, was charged by federal prosecutors on Friday with one count of wire fraud and two counts of money laundering.

“We always work diligently to ensure that people do not scam their way into financial windfalls by playing off of the public’s emotions or fears,” Justin Herdman, the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Ohio, said in a statement on Sunday. “This case is alleged to be one more example of something we have sadly seen over and over again, whether it relates to the global pandemic or schemes targeting the elderly — there is no cause, no tragedy, and no event that fraudsters won’t seek to exploit.”

A lawyer representing Mr. Page declined to comment on Sunday.

Mr. Page, who is also known as Tyree Conyers-Page, was arrested on Friday, appeared in federal court and was released on $10,000 bail.

The death of George Floyd in the custody of the Minneapolis police in May touched off demonstrations across the country and renewed the Black Lives Matter movement, which is decentralized and encourages local activists to organize at the grass-roots level.

Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta presented itself as one of those grass-roots efforts.

As the organization sought to establish itself and attract donations, tensions in Atlanta erupted into unrest. Demonstrations pushing through downtown streets after Mr. Floyd’s death escalated, as some in the crowd smashed windows, vandalized buildings and set a police car ablaze. The protesters’ anger intensified a few weeks later when Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old Black man, was fatally shot by the Atlanta police in June.

The Greater Atlanta organization maintained an active presence on Facebook, sought donations through GoFundMe, and cheered on the protesters. “We’ve been blown away by the millions that are coming together to demand justice — for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, and countless others who’ve had their lives taken,” said one of its posts in August.

Mr. Page said in private messages that the donations it received were being used to finance the group’s activism, federal investigators said. None of the money was “used for personal items,” Mr. Page wrote in one of the messages. “All movement related.”

Other groups based in Atlanta have distanced themselves from Mr. Page’s organization and its appeals for money. A similarly named but unrelated organization, Black Lives Matter Atlanta, wrote on Facebook, “This page will never seek donations. This is a grass-roots collective movement to fight for justice for the disenfranchised, and victims of police brutality.”

The Greater Atlanta group stressed in a post in June that donations to it were not tax-deductible: “We said it once, and we will say it again, BLMGA is no longer a nonprofit org, we are a social media grass roots org.”

The authorities said that Mr. Page established a nonprofit organization in 2016 and opened a bank account for Black Lives Matter of Greater Atlanta Inc. in 2018 with himself as the only signatory. The balance in the account never exceeded $5,000 until May of this year, and at one point it was overdrawn by $12.42.

But then donations exploded.

Investigators found that Mr. Page used a debit card linked to the bank account to pay for food, entertainment, furniture and a home security system. On Aug. 21, the authorities said, he spent $112,000 of the donated money for the house in Toledo and an adjacent lot.

A friend, Ron Goolsby, told The Toledo Blade that he expected Mr. Page to be exonerated. Mr. Page had plans to turn the Toledo house into a shelter for victims of domestic abuse, Mr. Goolsby said. “This is all going to be cleared up, for sure,” he said.

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