News 12 Investigates: Fundraiser or Scam? Businesses claim they haven't seen funds raised for looting damage

Chaos and confusion have been felt over a GoFundMe campaign that raised close to $50,000 in donations to help Bronx businesses recover from looting.

News 12 Staff

Jul 17, 2020, 8:39 PM

Updated 1,410 days ago


Chaos and confusion have been felt over a GoFundMe campaign that raised close to $50,000 in donations to help Bronx businesses recover from looting. 
Looting damaged businesses in the Fordham section of the Bronx in early June. Businesses say they have not received any money and that it has left donors angry and asking for an explanation. 
The looting happened during the nationwide unrest that followed the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota. 
Bronx resident Jessi Pedraza says she wanted to help by donating to the fundraising effort called “Fordham Cleanup” that was created on June 2. 
"Even if it's my last dime, I wanted to do that and I did it out of the kindness of my heart,” said Pedraza. 
However, over a month and a half after the fundraiser began, the money has yet to be donated to businesses. "It was kind of like a slap in the face, I feel like we really got taken advantage of,” said Pedraza.
A Twitter storm later took aim at Amin Razzaque, the organizer of the GoFundMe page. 
"We wanted to take every dollar we get from the community and give it back. Like you care for the community, you want to make the community better,” said Razzaque. 
Razzaque initially set a goal of raising $1,000 to help businesses recover and also feed and reimburse volunteers who he said had purchased supplies to clean up the popular shopping district. 
However, the campaign skyrocketed to nearly $50,000. "I didn't want anything -- that large amount of money -- I didn't want to associate with myself as a person,” said Razzaque. 
So, he started a “Not-For-Profit”--filing for the Bronx United Corp. on June 11. Christopher Sawyer, the organization’s chief financial officer, says this would allow them to transfer the donations from GoFundMe into a business bank account rather than a personal one. 
“As far as for tax situations -- you wouldn't want to put all that money in Amin's account. So the best way to do it was to do a nonprofit. We get to give the money right to the people,” said Sawyer. 
Armando Sanchez says the whole plan was very unclear and that he thought about donating but became suspicious as weeks went by and the donations piled up. 
"It showed that they weren't being completely transparent with us, that they were making moves behind the scenes to do things,” said Sanchez. 
In a message posted to the GoFundMe page exactly a month after the fundraiser started, Razzaque promised transparency amid controversy, attributing delays to “A longer than expected process with HSBC” to open a business banking account. 
He also wrote that banking documentation was rejected by GoFundMe and had to be resubmitted. 
The organizers say GoFundMe froze the transfer of donations to their not-for-profit’s bank account because of donors' requests for refunds. This further delayed the process of getting the money to businesses. 
"It's one thing if you ask us why is the money still in GoFundMe. That's a legitimate question. But to go and say, 'Hey, they're using the money to do this and do that,' you can't use money that's still there,” said Sawyer. 
Some people say they thought the donations were being used to start the not-for-profit rather than help the looted businesses, and began accusing Razzaque of running a scam. 
However, Razzaque and Sawyer say the money used to start the Bronx United Corp. came out of their own pockets. They say they have the receipts to prove it. 
They say the reason the GoFundMe’s donation amount has decreased over time is because donors like Pedraza have been successfully getting their money refunded. 
The Fordham Road Business Improvement District tells News 12 it offered to help the organizers identify businesses in need for the donations to go to--still patiently waiting. 
"Who's caught in the middle? We are. The BID is completely caught in the middle. We are still in this for the original reason, which is getting those businesses that money -- they needed it. It's still needed,” said business services liaison Oscar Alvarado. 
GoFundMe tells News 12 the fundraiser does not violate its website's terms of service. However, some donors say they are scarred by the experience and wonder if the money will ever get to where it was intended to go. 
The Bronx United Corp. says GoFundMe recently lifted the precautionary hold on the fundraiser and that the donations were finally transferred to its business banking account on July 14. 
They plan to hand out checks on Saturday. 

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