Justice Department Official Awards $500,000 Grant to Golf Group

Whistleblower says federal anti-crime money given to well-connected programs.

ByABC News
December 23, 2008, 12:04 PM

June 9, 2008 — -- A senior Justice Department official says a $500,000 federal grant to the World Golf Foundation is an appropriate use of money designed to deal with juvenile crime in America.

"We need something really attractive to engage the gangs and the street kids, golf is the hook," said J. Robert Flores, the administrator of the Justice Department's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention.

The Justice Department, in a decision by Flores, gave the money to the World Golf Foundation's First Tee program, even though Justice Department staffers had rated the program 47th on a list of 104 applicants. The allegations were first reported earlier this year by the trade journal Youth Today.

"I don't know why people insist on denigrating it, it's a sound program," Flores told ABC News.

Current and former Justice Department employees allege that Flores ignored the staff rankings in favor of programs that had political, social or religious connections to the Bush White House.

The honorary chairman of the First Tee program is former President George Bush. On a videotape presentation, the former President Bush praised the program for "serving others and building character and building values."

The director of the golf program, Joe Louis BarrowJr., said the program would help teach inner city children because "golf is a game where values such as honesty, integrity and sportsmanship are essential."

The golf program grant is one of a number of Justice Department grants now coming under scrutiny by a Congressional committee which will hold hearings next week.

A key witness will be a former employee of Flores' office, Scott Peterson, who says the grants were awarded based more on politics than merit.

"This is cronyism, this is waste, fraud and abuse," Peterson told ABC News in an interview aired on Nightline Monday night.

Peterson says the money for the golf program is one of a number of grants awarded to lower-ranked applicants rated in rankings compiled by Justice Department staff members.

"It's a lot of our taxpayer money that's supposed to go for some of our most vulnerable children," Peterson said.