Anti-crime youth grants went to golf programs

Historic City Undercover
According to a report published yesterday in the Washington Independent, a new investigation of the Justice Department with ties back to the First Coast is now gaining traction.

Matthew Blake writes that the Justice Department is in hot water over dubious grants and he says the scandal stems from the department’s decision to distribute millions of dollars in federal grants to questionable youth and crime-fighting programs.

One of the grants was awarded to The World Golf Foundation here in St. Johns County despite advice from agency staff members not to do so. Details of the grant were reported in a memorandum from the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform to the U.S. Congress and later obtained by Historic City News.

The memorandum states that Administrator of the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention – J. Robert Flores – awarded a $500,000 grant to the World Golf Foundation; even though its program ranked 47 out of 104 applications.

Mr. Flores told the Committee that he traveled to Florida in February 2006 to visit individuals associated with the World Golf Foundation and to play golf.

After Mr. Flores and his chief of staff, Michelle DeKonty, met with a World Golf Foundation official in June 2007, they directed Justice Department officials to assist the group in submitting its grant application. Before the peer review process commenced, the career official in charge of the peer review wrote in an e-mail that he was “certain we are funding” the World Golf Foundation because Mr. Flores’s chief of staff “has said as much.”

According to The Washington Independent report, the $500,000 OJJDP grant to the World Golf Foundation’s First Tee Initiative was “not recommended”. The program which is based here in St. Augustine seeks to “impact the lives of young people by providing learning facilities and educational programs that enhance character development through the game of golf.”

This program ranked 47 out of 104, with some Justice Department staff expressing concern it wouldn’t serve a “large population of at-risk kids.”

The committee report alleges that Flores met with Joe Barrow, executive director of the First Tee program, and encouraged him to apply for a Justice Department grant. This meeting came about after Flores played golf in St. Augustine during the World Golf Foundation’s annual meeting.

The World Golf Foundation declined an interview request.

More to be added as this story unfolds.