A leading activist for Black Lives Matter in the United Kingdom, who misused over £32,000 ($39,000) in donations meant for a youth charity to support her extravagant lifestyle, has been sentenced to two and a half years in jail.
Xahra Saleem, aged 23, created a GoFundMe page to collect donations from the public before a Black Lives Matter march in the southwestern city of Bristol, England in June 2020. The march resulted in the removal of a statue honoring Edward Colston, a Bristol philanthropist who profited from the slave trade.
The fundraising page collected a total of £32,344 in donations. It indicated that the funds would be allocated for personal protective equipment (PPE) in preparation for the march during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Any remaining money was promised to support Changing Your Mindset, a charity aiding disadvantaged youths in St. Paul’s, a Bristol area known for its significant African-Caribbean population.
During a sentencing hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Tuesday, it was revealed that Saleem kept the money for herself and used it to support a lavish lifestyle. Additionally, she consistently disregarded the charity’s requests to transfer the funds.
The prosecuting attorney informed the court that she made 2,512 payments across a 15-month span, purchasing items such as an iPhone, iMac, clothing, and beauty treatments, and spending £5,080 on Uber rides for herself.
In court, it was revealed that Saleem started to panic when the charity inquired about the funds. Allegedly, she sent a message to a friend via WhatsApp that said: “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.
People present at the sentencing hearing included several young individuals associated with the charity that was meant to receive the funds, as reported by 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.
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