A senior Bush-appointed Justice Department official breached ethics rules by accepting a free round of golf from a grant applicant, awarded tens of millions of dollars in grant money to low-ranking programs, and circumvented federal regulations to hire a consultant to work on faith-based issues, according to the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.
The OIG audit for fiscal year 2007 and investigative report slammed J. Robert Flores, the official who oversaw the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), and rekindled outrage from Democrats in Congress.
"The Inspector General's findings that the Director of [OJJDP] in the past administration engaged in abuses, ethical lapses and cronyism, and favored those with personal and political ties over those with the strongest merits for jobs and contracts, is consistent with what we have seen in so many parts of the Department of Justice under the past administration," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Youth advocates chimed in calling OJJDP's grant giving practices totally corrupt: "What took place was an utter disregard for the extraordinary adults and hundreds and hundreds of youth serving agencies who applied for these federal grants to improve the lives of these abused and molested children and youth who were victimized," said Scott Peterson, a former OJJDP staffer.
The OIG's report comes almost one year after ABC News Nightline raised questions about Flores' grant-giving methods last June. He awarded hundreds of thousands and in one case over $1 million to programs that ranked towards the bottom of the applicant pool -- which often aligned with his personal interests and ideological convictions according to current and former DOJ staffers-- leaving many of the top ranked grant seeking programs with nothing.
The World Golf Foundation's "First Tee" program was awarded $500,000 in 2007, despite its ranking of 47th out of 104 applicants by OJJDP staffers who rated the programs' merit based on research and track records for effectively helping troubled teens.
"There's no research that supports this," Peterson told Nightline. "It's a lot of taxpayer money that's supposed to go for some of our most vulnerable children," Peterson said, adding that he believes Flores gave the grant to World Golf because he likes to play the game.
"Flores would golf during the day while on official travel around the country on tax payer funds," said Peterson, who traveled with Flores on several occasions.
The OIG report revealed that Flores had violated federal ethics rules by accepting a $157 round of golf from World Golf and that the foundation should have been prohibited from receiving the grant due to the gift. Flores paid the money back two years later, one day before he was called to testify at a congressional hearing probing his office's grant-giving practices.
"He never considered the round of golf a gift because it was always his intent to pay for the round of golf with personal funds," said his lawyer, Elliot Berke, on Thursday. Berke said Flores attempted to pay for the round at the time he played but the foundation was unable to accept payment.
Flores told ABC News in a telephone interview before the Nightline report that First Tee is a sound program: "I don't know why people insist on denigrating it."