A prominent Black Lives Matter activist in the United Kingdom who used over £32,000 (€36,000) in donations intended for a youth charity to fund her lavish lifestyle has been jailed for two and a half years.
Xahra Saleem, 23, set up a GoFundMe page encouraging donations from the public ahead of a Black Lives Matter march in the southwest English city of Bristol in June 2020 which culminated in the toppling of a statue commemorating Edward Colston, a Bristol-based philanthropist who profited in his later years from the slave trade.
The page, which amassed donations totaling £32,344, stated that funds would be used for personal protective equipment (PPE) ahead of the march at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, with leftover monies being pledged to Changing Your Mindset, a charity for disadvantaged youths based in the Bristol district of St. Paul’s which has a large African-Caribbean population.
At a sentencing hearing on Tuesday, Bristol Crown Court heard how Saleem pocketed the cash and used it to fund an extravagant lifestyle while repeatedly ignoring requests from the charity for her to transfer the funds.
Prosecuting counsel told the court how she made a total of 2,512 payments over a 15-month period, buying herself an iPhone, iMac, clothes, beauty treatments, and spending £5,080 on Uber.
The court heard how Saleem began to panic when the charity came looking for the funds. She reportedly sent a message to a friend on WhatsApp which read: “I’ve done something horrendous… let’s just say my brain spent it. I couldn’t tell you on what, where, or why. I don’t know what I spent it on.”
Saleem had been made a director of Changing Your Mindset and its executives had begun to organize a trip to the Gambia, West Africa, for young people, relying on the funds they expected to receive. Despite repeated attempts to take receipt of the money, it was not forthcoming, prompting the charity to issue Saleem with an ultimatum in June 2021.
In response, Saleem sent an e-mail explaining she had spent the cash. “I am so sorry, I am still trying to understand my actions as well,” the e-mail read.
Those in attendance at the sentencing hearing including a number of the young people affiliated with the charity who were supposed to receive the money, according to local media.
In mitigation, her defense counsel cited her tender age of 20 and admitted that his client had “bitten off far more than she could chew” with the money she had been entrusted with.
He added that Saleem had fallen into a lifestyle of “taking drugs” and “drinking alcohol to excess,” which “would have had an impact on the clarity of her judgment.”
Upon passing his sentence, Judge Michael Longman said: “You did not set out to defraud anyone, but you took the opportunity when you had control of the company’s money to spend it on your own expenses.”
“There should have been no reason why the money could not be transferred, you made excuses for that failure and those excuses were false, contrived, and deliberately deceptive. Initial hopes of solving the issue without involving the police faded. You offered to report yourself to the police but failed to do so,” he added.