A Black Lives Matter activist in the United Kingdom has been found guilty of fraud for misappropriating nearly $40,000 in charitable contributions, diverting the funds towards personal expenses such as hair appointments, take-out food, and other personal items.
The individual, identified as Xahra Saleem, who previously used the name Yvonne Maina, has been sentenced to a 2 1/2-year prison term, as reported by the BBC.
Saleem was involved in the establishment of a GoFundMe page aimed at raising financial support for Changing Your Mindset, a charity focused on assisting underprivileged youth, according to The Guardian. The funds were intended to facilitate weekly support sessions and an educational trip to Africa.
Apart from her role as a director of the charity, Saleem also played a part in organizing a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England, in June 2020. During this widely publicized event, protesters toppled the statue of a 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, and threw it into Bristol Harbour in protest of the death of George Floyd in the United States.
Leading up to the protest, Saleem initiated a fundraising campaign to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for the lawful conduct of the march, which took place amid COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, according to the BBC.
Following the global attention garnered by the statue’s removal, an influx of more than 500 donations came in. Regrettably, instead of directing the funds toward charitable purposes, Saleem succumbed to temptation.
She transferred the money into her own bank accounts, using it for rent payments, acquiring an iPhone and iMac, making Amazon purchases, covering expenses for take-out food and hair appointments, and spending over $7,000 on Uber rides.
The court discovered WhatsApp messages in which Saleem confessed to the fraud, stating, “I have done something horrendous, you can’t tell anyone until I have properly sorted it out.” Drafted apology messages were also found on her phone, the BBC reported.
At one point, Saleem claimed that Black Lives Matter had advised her not to transfer the money to the charity, although she offered other excuses before eventually admitting the misappropriation. Saleem asserted that her actions were influenced by psychosis, which hindered her ability to think rationally, as reported by the BBC.
Judge Michael Longman emphasized that Saleem’s actions victimized the donors, her fellow charity workers, and the young individuals who were meant to benefit from Black Lives Matter’s efforts.
A statement from an associate who assisted Saleem in organizing the BLM protest in Bristol expressed the pain and disappointment felt by the group over the incident, according to The Guardian. The associate, Rebecca Scott, described how they were astounded by the significant sum of money raised, believing it was an opportunity to make a real impact.
The Guardian reported that Scott and other directors felt complicit in the situation, which ultimately led to the decision to shut down Changing Your Mindset. Tragically, one of the young individuals who had received support from the charity later passed away, leaving another organization director to reflect on the potential impact they might have had on that young person’s life.