It’s an easy mistake to make. Who could blame the Justice Department for failing to guess that a group called Hookers for Jesus might use taxpayer dollars in ways that violate the First Amendment and fail to adhere to accepted treatment standards? Although, to be fair, referring to human trafficking victims as “Hookers” might have tipped them off. Plus, there’s the whole FOR JESUS part.
Reuters reports that the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees local 2830, the DOJ employees union, filed a whistleblower complaint with the Department’s Inspector General about possible corruption in the allocation of $77 million of anti-human trafficking grants.
According to a September 12 memo seen by Reuters, Chicanos Por La Causa, which opposes Trump’s immigration policies, and Catholic Charities in Palm Beach, whose leader has been active in Democratic politics, were originally on the Office of Justice Programs (OJP) list of Tier 1 grantees. But later that month, both were bumped in favor of less-qualified, Tier 2 grantees more closely linked to the GOP.
For instance, The Lincoln Tubman Foundation of South Carolina was founded less than two years ago by Brooke Burris, the daughter of a prominent Republican donor. It’s currently run out of a private home and has almost no record of helping victims of human trafficking. What it does have, though, is the support of South Carolina’s Tim Scott, a prominent backer of Donald Trump. In September, Sen. Scott wrote a letter to OJP demanding a “prompt review” of the Foundation’s application, and just days later the organization received $549,345 of funding. Amazing!
And then there’s Hookers for Jesus, which received $530,190. At least through 2018, the organization mandated attendance at religious services for residents of its safe house and banned “secular magazines with articles, pictures, etc. that portray worldly views/advice on living, sex, clothing, makeup tips.” Because taking the Cosmo survey causes human trafficking?
The state of Nevada funded the organization in 2017, but subsequently declined to renew the grant after discovering that the Hookers for Jesus program manual required church attendance, called homosexuality immoral, and described recreational drug use as “witchcraft.”
One Nevada grant reviewer in 2018 questioned whether Hookers for Jesus treated victims like “prisoners,” while another observed the program seemed too controlling and expressed concern it forced victims to attend Bible study, the grant review documents show.
“We felt their policies were not victim-focused or evidence based,” said Kelsey McCann-Navarro, whose office in Nevada’s Division of Child and Family Services decided not to renew the funding.
OJP head Katharine Sullivan, who approved the grantee substitutions, concedes that mandatory church attendance is perhaps a bad thing, saying, “This might be something that may be appropriate for our civil rights department to look at.” (It might!) But she denies any responsibility for determining whether grantees use taxpayer dollars effectively or even legally, because “Those are not facts or things that we would know ahead of time.”
Ms. Sullivan insists that the Tier 1 grantees were bumped simply to “distribute funding across as many states as possible,” adding later, “Our funding decisions are based on a merit-based review system.” Which seems rather at odds with bumping Tier 1 grant applicants in favor of Tier 2 candidates. But perhaps we are confused from a lifetime of witchcraft and demonic makeup tips.
Exclusive: Justice Department anti-human trafficking grants prompt whistleblower complaint [Reuters]
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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