A Black Lives Matter activist in the United Kingdom has been convicted of fraud after spending nearly $40,000 in charitable donations on hair appointments, take-out food and other personal expenses.
Xahra Saleem, 23, who formerly went by the name Yvonne Maina, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison, the BBC reported this week.
Saleem helped set up a GoFundMe page to raise funds for Changing Your Mindset, a charity for disadvantaged youth, The Guardian reported.
“The idea was to fund weekly support sessions, plus an educational visit to Africa,” according to the report.
In addition to serving as a director of the charity, Saleem was one of the organizers of a Black Lives Matter protest in Bristol, England, in June 2020, the BBC reported.
During that highly publicized event, the statue of a 17th-century slave trader, Edward Colston, was pulled down and thrown into Bristol Harbour in protest of the U.S. death of George Floyd.
“In the days leading up to the protest, Saleem set up a fundraising page to buy personal protective equipment (PPE) to help legally facilitate the march, which took place during Covid-19 pandemic restrictions,” the BBC reported.
“After the toppling of the statue made headlines around the world, more than 500 donations flooded in,” according to The Guardian.
Rather than using the money to fund the charitable causes, Saleem “succumbed to temptation,” transferring the money into her own bank accounts and using it to pay rent, buy an iPhone and iMac, make purchases on Amazon, pay for take-out food and hair appointments, and use over $7,000 on Uber rides.
“The court heard that in June 2021, Saleem discussed the fraud over WhatsApp with a friend, telling them: ‘I have done something horrendous, you can’t tell anyone until I have properly sorted it out,’ and draft apology messages also were discovered on her phone,” according to the BBC.
Xahra Saleem helped organise the toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol. She went on to defraud the public of £30,000 in donations for her BLM cause.
She spent the money on rent, ubers, hair & beauty appointments.
Bristol Crown Court jailed for two-and-a-half years. pic.twitter.com/5rJl6DPxSH
— David Atherton (@DaveAtherton20) October 31, 2023
At one point, Saleem claimed that Black Lives Matter had advised her not to transfer the money to the charity, The Guardian reported.
She made other excuses but finally admitted the money was gone.
Saleem claimed to suffer from psychosis, “which stopped her from thinking rationally,” the BBC reported.
Judge Michael Longman said Saleem victimized the donors, her fellow charity workers and the young people who would have benefited from BLM’s work.
In a victim impact statement, an associate who had helped Saleem organize the BLM protest in Bristol described the hurt and disappointment she and others experienced over the incident, according to The Guardian.
That associate, Rebecca Scott, said the workers were “blown away” by the amount raised and said, “This felt like our chance to really have an impact.”
The Guardian reported that Scott said she and other directors “were made to feel ‘complicit’ in what had happened,” which led to the decision to close Changing Your Mindset.
One young person the charity had been helping later died, causing another director of the organization to speculate, “We could have been the people who saved that young person’s life.”