A former top official in the White House's faith-based office was awarded a lucrative Department of Justice grant under pressure from two senior Bush administration appointees, according to current and former DOJ staff members and a review of internal DOJ documents and emails.
The $1.2 million grant was jointly awarded to a consulting firm run by Lisa Trevino Cummins who previously headed Hispanic outreach efforts for the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, and a California evangelical group, Victory Outreach.
The grant was awarded over the strong objections of career DOJ staff who did not believe that Victory Outreach was qualified for the grant and that too great an amount of the funds was going to Cummins' consulting company instead of being spent on services for children.
Cummins' company, Urban Strategies LLC, was slated to get one third of the money for helping the self-described "evangelizing" Victory Outreach use the rest of the funds.
On its website, Victory Outreach describes itself as a "church-oriented Christian ministry called to the task of evangelizing and disciplining the hurting people of the world, with the message of hope and plan of Jesus Christ."
The grant is now central to a Justice Department probe into alleged irregular contracting practices within its own ranks, according to a federal law enforcement official close to the investigation.
The money was awarded by J. Robert Flores, the Administrator of the DOJ's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) who is under investigation by the DOJ's Inspector General after current and former employees said he awarded grants to programs with the right political and ideological connections. OJJDP grants are intended to address juvenile delinquency prevention and/or the juvenile justice system.
Cummins' application for the grant should have immediately "raised red flags," according to a senior Justice Department official. The official said that most of the grant money should be going to services, but that "in this case, you have a third of the money up front going to a consulting company," the official said.
Furthermore, Cummins' said in the application that she planned to have one of her senior employees oversee Victory Outreach's use of the federal funds, even though that employee, Kelly Cowles, had mismanaged funds according to Ohio state investigators.
The proposal said that Cowles was qualified because as president of her own consulting company she had designed and implemented "a two-year statewide $22 million" faith-based initiative for the Ohio Governor's Office.
Ohio's governor terminated that contract for mismanagement in March 2007.
An investigation by the Ohio Inspector General in September 2007 questioned more than $125,000 in payments to Cowles' firm, concluding that "there was no documentation of what work was performed, services provided, or actual days worked." Cowles' company filed for bankruptcy protection in June of that year. Cowles declined to comment to ABC News for this story.
Flores awarded the $1.2 million OJJDP grant around that same time despite the findings of the Ohio State Inspector General and the objections of career Justice Department grant reviewers.