She called herself Grant Bae and appeared in online chats alongside well-known entrepreneurial influencers. She said she had years of experience in grant writing and could help struggling minority-owned businesses secure much-needed money during the pandemic.
For this, Traeshonna Graham, of Lake City, Fla., collected thousands in fees, but dozens of clients say she never delivered. Now, the Federal Trade Commission and authorities in Florida have moved to shut Grant Bae down, saying the business was all a COVID-19 scam.
“These scammers targeted minority-owned businesses and misused public funds meant to support honest businesses during the pandemic,” said Samuel Levine, the director of the FTC’s bureau of consumer protection.
In all, the FTC said at least 100 businesses were defrauded as part of the scam.
Messages left for Graham, who court documents said is representing herself, were not immediately returned.
Investigators say Graham created 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 needed funds during the chaotic early days of the pandemic.
Targeting minority-run businesses, Graham appeared as Shonna Williams on panels alongside well-known entrepreneur advisors on platforms like Clubhouse.
“I heard her speak in a virtual room where the speakers focused on business development advice,” Raymond King, the owner of a North Carolina company that manufactures hair and skin care products, wrote in a complaint describing how he was defrauded 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 entrepreneurship world.”
But the FTC says it was all a lie. Graham had little experience as a grant writer when she launched Grant Bae and that her last known job was for a fast food restaurant in Florida from which she was fired in 2018 for theft. She served three years of probation for the offense, court records said.
Messages left with representatives for Black Enterprise and BlackNews.com weren’t immediately returned. Cardone, a real estate investing promoter, said in a statement that he had no connection to Graham and did not “have any knowledge of what transpired.”
As part of its investigation, the FTC said it appeared that Graham used money she allegedly obtained fraudulently through Covid-19 relief programs, to build her Grant Bae business.
King said he was promised that he would receive at least $50,000 in grant funding if he paid a $1,999 fee up front. If he didn’t get the money, he was told he would get the fee back. But after months of run around, he said Grant Bae stopped responding to his messages.
“I began to think Grant Bae was a scam as time went by and nothing it promised materialized. I did not receive the $50,000 in grant funding promised. In fact, I did not receive any funding at all,” he wrote.
His was one of dozens of complaints filed in federal court in Florida alongside the FTC suit, in which small business owners alleged having similar experiences with Grant Bae. Last week, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction shutting the business down pending further legal action.