His name was Grant Bae and he appeared in online chats alongside well-known entrepreneurial influencers. He said he had years of experience in drafting grants and could help minority companies struggling to secure much-needed money during the pandemic.
That’s why Traeshonna Graham, of Lake City, Florida, charged thousands in fees, but dozens of customers say she never delivered. Now, the Federal Trade Commission and Florida authorities have moved to shut down Grant Bae, saying the business was all a COVID-19 scam.
“These scammers targeted minority-owned businesses and misused public funds intended to support honest businesses during the pandemic,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Consumer Protection Office. .
In all, the FTC said at least 100 companies were scammed as part of the scam.
The messages left for Graham, who according to court documents represents herself, were not returned immediately.
Researchers say Graham created C. Lee Enterprises, LLC in 2020, publicly operating it as Grant Bae and marketing herself online as an experienced grant writer focused on helping small businesses find the funds they need during first chaotic days of the pandemic.
Aiming to target minority-run businesses, Graham appeared as Shonna Williams on panels alongside well-known entrepreneur advisors on platforms such as Clubhouse.
“I heard her speak in a virtual room where the speakers focused on business development advice,” wrote Raymond King, owner of a North Carolina company that manufactures hair care and hair care products. skin, in a complaint where he described how he was scammed by thousands of people. Grant Bae. “He appeared alongside Grant Cardone, which established his legitimacy in my mind because Grant Cardone is a great player in the world of entrepreneurship.”
Publications such as Black Enterprise and BlackNews.com posted profiles at their service, describing how it had helped raise $ 65 million in funding for minority-owned businesses.
But the FTC says it was all a lie. Graham had little experience as a scholarship writer when she launched Grant Bae and her last known job was for a fast food restaurant in Florida from which she was fired in 2018 for theft. He served three years probation for the crime, according to court records.
Messages left to Black Enterprise and BlackNews.com representatives were not returned immediately. Cardone, a real estate investment developer, said in a statement that he had no connection to Graham and that he “had no knowledge of what happened.”
As part of his investigation, the FTC said it appeared Graham used the money he allegedly fraudulently obtained through Covid-19 relief programs to build his Grant Bae business.
King said he was promised he would receive at least $ 50,000 in grants if he paid a $ 1,999 fee in advance. If he did not receive the money, he was told he would return the fee. But after months of running, he said Grant Bae stopped responding to his messages.
“I started thinking that Grant Bae was a scam over time and nothing he promised materialized. I didn’t receive the promised $ 50,000 grant. In fact, I didn’t receive any funding,” he wrote.
His was one of dozens of lawsuits filed in Florida federal court along with the FTC lawsuit, in which small business owners alleged to have similar experiences with Grant Bae. Last week, a federal judge issued a temporary order to close the business pending further legal action.