‘Grant Bae was a scam’: FTC shuts down grant writing service they say scammed dozens of minority-owned businesses during pandemic
Her name was Grant Bae and appeared in online chats alongside well-known entrepreneurial influencers. She said she had years of experience writing grants and could help struggling minority-owned businesses get much-needed money during the pandemic.
Traeshonna Graham of Lake City, Fla., collected thousands in fees for it, but dozens of customers say she never delivered. Now the Federal Trade Commission and Florida authorities have moved to shut down Grant Bae, claiming the company is a COVID-19 scam.
“These scammers have targeted minority-owned businesses and misappropriated public funds intended to support honest businesses during the pandemic,” said Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s consumer protection bureau.
In total, the FTC said at least 100 companies were defrauded in the scam.
Messages left for Graham, who court documents say is representing herself, were not immediately returned.
Investigators say Graham formed C. Lee Enterprises, LLC in 2020, operating it publicly as Grant Bae and marketing herself online as an experienced grant writer focused on helping small businesses find the funds needed during the chaotic early days of the pandemic.
Targeting minority-run businesses, Graham has appeared as Shonna Williams on panels alongside advisers to well-known entrepreneurs on platforms like 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 makes hair and skin care products. in a complaint describing how he was scammed out of thousands by Grant Bae. “She appeared alongside Grant Cardone, which established her legitimacy in my mind because Grant Cardone is a big player in the world of entrepreneurship.”
But the FTC says it was all a lie. Graham had little experience as a grant writer when she launched Grant Bae and her last known job was for a Florida fast food restaurant from which she was fired in 2018 for theft. She served three years of probation for the offense, according to court records.
Messages left with representatives of Black Enterprise and BlackNews.com were not immediately returned. Cardone, a real estate investment promoter, said in a statement that he was unrelated to Graham and “had no knowledge of what happened.”
As part of its investigation, the FTC said it appeared Graham had used money she allegedly fraudulently obtained through Covid-19 relief programs, to expand her business Grant Bae.
King said he was promised he would receive at least $50,000 in grants if he paid a $1,999 fee up front. If he didn’t get the money, he was told he would recoup the costs. But after months on the run, he said Grant Bae had stopped responding to his messages.
“I started to think 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 ‘ve received no funding at all,” he wrote.
It was one of dozens of complaints filed in federal court in Florida alongside the FTC lawsuit, in which small business owners alleged they had similar experiences with Grant Bae. Last week, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction shutting down the company pending further legal action.