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.
Peterson says current employees smuggled documents out of the Justice Department so he could provide them to ABC News as proof of the favoritism.
"More than a half dozen career employees through faxes, FedEx, made sure that you had this stuff," said Peterson.
Many top-rated programs were denied federal grants.
A program to help troubled teens in San Diego, Vista, was ranked number two by the staff out of 202 applicants in its category of prevention and intervention but was turned down for a grant to help deal with inner city teen violence in San Diego.
Another program, designed to train adult guards to deal with teens in custody, also was denied federal money even though it was ranked by the staff number 2 out of 104 in its category.
"What Flores did in this situation is he just stomped on the heads of kids who are very much at risk and in trouble in this country," said Earl Dunlap, who runs the guard training program for the National Partnership for Juvenile Services.
"He determined what the rules were gonna be and who was gonna play and who was gonna be welcome in his club. And everybody else could take a hike," said Dunlap of Flores.
In a telephone interview with ABC News, Flores defended his decisions as in the best overall interest of dealing with teen crime.
He said he was never bound by his staff's recommendations and that he made decisions based "on the overall" need in the country.
Flores was appointed to the position by President Bush six years ago and has overseen about $1.5 billion dollars in grants during that time.
His former employee, Scott Peterson, said Flores holds daily prayer sessions in the Justice Department office and frowns on giving grant money to organizations that provide sex education or condoms to teenagers.
Instead, said Peterson, Flores favors programs that promote sexual abstinence.
A Washington, D.C. program, Best Friends, that promotes abstinences was awarded $1.1 million by Flores even though it ranked 53rd on a list of 104 applicants.
Best Friends is run by Elayne Bennett, the wife of Bill Bennett, a former Republican cabinet member and now political commentator.
"We're really about positive friendships," she told ABC News at a recent charity gala that included many of Washington's GOP elite. "A good, solid friendship is a beautiful thing," she said.
Murray Waas is a Washington-based investigative reporter who primarily covers national security and law enforcement issues. He is a contributing editor to the National Journal and has also written for the New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe and other newspapers and magazines.