June 13, 2008 — -- A group that promotes leadership through football says it doesn't know how it was awarded a $500,000 federal grant to help stop juvenile crime, but that it "wasn't political."
The grant is one of a number for the Department of Justice's Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) that has come under scrutiny after current and former employees said the official who awarded the money ignored professional staff recommendations and played favorites with groups connected to the Bush White House. ABC News conducted an investigation into the OJJDP, which aired earlier this week on "Nightline".
A Congressional committee is expected to hold hearings on the subject next week.
The National Football Foundation (NFF), formerly based in New Jersey and now in Texas, says they did not apply for the grant and have had no contact with J. Robert Flores, the official who awarded the money.
"I wouldn't know Flores if I bumped into him. We should not be lumped in with the other groups that did appear to have political connections," said NFF President Steven J. Hatchell.
Hatchell said that 96 percent of the students in the program, a majority of whom are minorities who come from low-income homes, graduate high school and 81 percent go on to college.
"We go into inner city schools and help kids who really need it," said Hatchell.
Some OJJDP staffers said this program did not deserve the funding.
"The football program, like the World Golf Foundation, has lots of private resources and outside funding. They have wealthy powerful people on the board," one staffer said.
The staffer added that by law the OJJDP's primary focus is to fund programs that intervene and protect kids who are on the cusp of entering into the juvenile justice system or who are already in the system, and there is no research that shows this program targets the most at-risk kids.
NFF said that by establishing programs at inner city schools, including Native American schools, it does target at-risk kids.
ABC News reported on one program, the National Partnership of Juvenile Services, that OJJDP staffers said should have gotten funding but did not. NPJS' proposed program to train guards at juvenile detention centers was rated second out of the 104 applicants by staff reviewers.
Earl Dunlap, CEO of NPJS, told ABC News that he was angry that Flores ignored the ratings of the OJJDP staff. He said that abuse of kids by guards in detention centers happens often, and that his training program could not be implemented because it was dependent of the OJJDP funding.
"There are about 50,000 kids in a juvenile detention or corrections setting on any given day. In my opinion, 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," Dunlap told ABC News.
An OJJDP staffer said that Dunlap's program used to get funding but that Flores stopped funding "any sort of support for kids in custody."
"[Flores] is kind of person that says, 'you do the crime you do the time. Corrections and detention is not sexy. Lets fund something more attractive like golf or football,'" the staffer said.
Flores told ABC News that he gave to programs that in his view met a need he saw in the field that had gone unanswered.