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Former Birmingham city official surprised by ties to donor of $237 million FAMU gift

This is an opinion column.

Kim Abbott – you’ll most likely remember her as Kim Rafferty, the two-term Birmingham City Councilor from 2009 to 2017 – confesses that the only place she’s served as CEO is her home. As a caregiver to two children, two grandmothers, a sick husband (grandmothers and husband passed away) and “a chocolate lab puppy that eats me out of the house and at home. “

“I’m a stay-at-home mom. I would never have been able to be the CEO of anything,” she says recently, vehemently. “And these were my words to him.”

IT is Gregory Gerami, a Texas entrepreneur who once did business (and owned a residence) in Birmingham. Or Brice Gerami. Or Jeremy Geramis. He is noted as each on various media platforms.

Until recently, Abbott was listed as co-CEO of Gerami’s Batterson Farms, Corp., a hemp company, on her website, along with an old photo from her board days, though she says she “didn’t never worked” for it.

“I didn’t give him permission to put my picture on the site,” she said. “I didn’t give him permission to put my name on the site. (My name) was just a placeholder. I’ve never done business. All he did was call me and ask for advice. This is not a CEO.”

Now, Gerami takes center stage in one of the most jaw-dropping acts of philanthropy in my memory bank. On May 4, the 30-year-old took the stage during Florida A&M’s commencement ceremonies in Tallahassee and stunned the entire HBCU community with an oversized check representing a $237.75 million stock gift from Isaac Batterson 7th Family Trust.

Since that day, however, following numerous press reports questioning the validity of the stratospheric gift – by far one of, if not the THE the largest ever for an HBCU — has been unleashed like a cheap sweater, and the embarrassed institution is making some serious sales.

Last Thursday—a few days after FAMU said on the platform, I will forever call on Twitter that the university had done its “due diligence” on the gift and Gerami transferred the stock to his account—the gift was put on “pause” following an emergency FAMU. The Foundation’s Board of Trustees meeting where members expressed their dismay and anger at the damning revelations and had no idea about the titanium gift until the photo op began.

“…Nobody, as far as I know from this conversation, had any idea about it,” Vice President Deveron Gibbons told CNN. “We’re talking about a transformational donation, the largest in HBCU history: a big control on stage, with the media involved and a big PR campaign. If that doesn’t show that we need to step back and get our own house in order, I don’t know what does.”

All mention of the gift appears to have been deleted from FAMU’s social media accounts, and there appears to be no mention of it on the institution’s website.

A special ZOOM board meeting is scheduled for Wednesday at 3 p.m.; a link to view the meeting is on the FAMU website.

In a telephone conversation this week, Gerami said: “Miss Rafferty is a great person, a very intelligent woman. And I hope you will report this: she is a very intelligent woman in many ways – very good and thorough in many things. So when we created Batterson Farms, we thought Kim would be a great fit to be our co-CEO because she had a background in government relations and we deal a lot with government, agriculture and products. We thought it would be a great fit for these things.

“But she hasn’t been co-CEO for a while. Now I wouldn’t say she wasn’t affiliated with the company, but she hasn’t been co-CEO for a while. We forgot to remove it from the (web) page. She wasn’t (listed as co-CEO) on the board (of directors) page, but on that page, where her name was, we forgot to take her out.”

Gerami did not address the status of the donation. “I can’t,” he said. “I’m sorry, I knew it would come, but I can’t.”

Abbott initially learned of Gerami during her tenure on the council and later offered her advice, she says, on navigating the city’s business and political circles. She calls the relationship “controversial.”

“I never spoke to him until he called me after I left the board,” she said. “He contacted me and started asking me for advice on how to do things in the city, who to talk to, things like that. Never an exchange of money. I’m just talking. Just being a mentor and that was good for me.”

In Birmingham, Gerami was connected to a failed effort to develop the graveyard that was once the Century Plaza mall in her district. The site is now an Amazon fulfillment center.

Abbott says Gerami approached him when he launched Batterson Farms, which he says aims to “be the go-between for the hemp industry.”

“He asked me if I would partner with him,” Abbott said. “I said, ‘I don’t have any money. I have no experience. But I’ll give you all the advice I can.

He asked if she would be a “stand-in” CEO while he recruited a qualified one.

“I said, ‘I can’t be the CEO of anything, but I’ll be a stand-in for you while you build your corporation,'” she said. “The site was never supposed to be live.”

Birmingham City Council District 2 incumbent Kim Rafferty speaks with a friend in Birmingham, Alabama, Tuesday, August 27, 2013. (Mark Almond/[email protected]) ORG XMIT: ALBIN

Abbott says he got “penny stock” at Batterson Farms. “He threw it at me five years ago and said it wasn’t worth anything, but one day they’ll be worth something,” she said.

Gerami said he distributed shares to Abbott and board members and later exercised a buyback option at a set price. For her stock, Abbott says she received 71 cents.

On action? I asked.

“No, 71 cents total,” she said.

“I don’t know what he got,” Gerami said.

“The only thing I got from them other than the 71 cents was chips and dip at a Mexican restaurant on the south side,” Abbott said. “My summary from my vast experience of seven years is that he is full of it and he is not honest with people, that he uses people. Unfortunately, we didn’t catch him until it was almost too late.”

Same as FAMU.

I am a member of the National Association of Black Journalists Hall of Fame and a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary. My column appears on AL.com, as well as Lede. Tell me what you think [email protected]and follow me to twitter.com/roysjor on Instagram @roysj.