There are plenty of passages in the Bible that tell us not to lie, but they don't say jack about fudging invoices or grant applications! On December 21, a Deerfield Beach pastor, Anthony Davis, was hit with $50,000 in civil fines for having overbilled the government.
Davis' organization, Brotherly Love Social Services, ran a mentoring program for at-risk youth at Deerfield Beach elementary, middle, and high schools. Funds for the program came from the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant program, which is the primary provider of criminal justice funding to state and local jurisdictions.
An audit revealed that "Brotherly Love Parties falsely billed per session based on 45 minutes of service rather than 60 minutes of service, falsely billed group session rates for sessions when only one student was provided service, and either overbilled or billed without the necessary supporting documentation certain amounts outside the scope of the grant." Still, Davis probably got off easy; the Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General scrutinized only $250,000 of funding, all from 2010. Davis has claimed nearly $1.1 million in revenue since 2006.
The United Way of Broward County Commission on Substance Abuse is the agency that helped administer the grant locally. Asked for comment about Davis, United Way of Broward County CEO Kathleen Cannon wrote, "We are just as interested as you are. We are awaiting final disposition from authorities."
Other groups that have funded Brotherly Love in the past, including the Community Foundation of Broward County, hinted that they will cut funding to the organization.
This isn't the first time Davis has graced our pages. In 2011, when he was running for City Commission (he placed second), we told you how Davis filed a claim for public assistance, ultimately receiving $13,657 for residential bathroom improvements that would help his disabled daughter. Problem was, those public funds are supposed to be allotted to low-income families; Davis and his wife made more than $46,000 combined and thus were technically of "moderate" income. That alone should have disqualified the Davises from the grant money, but furthermore, on his grant application, Davis failed to disclose his ownership of multiple properties.
After I personally tipped off authorities about rampant corruption in Deerfield Beach, a forensic auditor, Kessler International, was eventually hired by the city to investigate. The firm attempted to determine whether Davis committed fraud and whether city employee Stephanie McMillian, the woman who approved the grant money and was also on the Brotherly Love board, had shirked her responsibility to perform due diligence. But when Kessler requested books from Brotherly Love, Davis refused to provide them, saying, "[I] cannot shut down operations to locate five years worth of records."
The Kessler work eventually led to the closure of Deerfield's Community Development Division and the release of McMillian, as well as the ouster of commissioner Sylvia Poitier, who had a habit of giving city grant money to people close to her. (McMillian is her niece.) But to date, Davis has not been charged with any economic crime nor is required to repay any of the ill-begotten $13,657.
The more recent investigation into Davis' overbilling for the mentoring program was a long time coming. Former New Times reporter Thomas Francis went looking for information about Davis a few years ago after he noticed that Brotherly Love had received about $40,000 in grant money in 2006, 2007, and 2008 -- but that figure jumped to $250,000 in 2009. Francis called the schools to find out exactly what Davis was doing in return and was told that Brotherly Love's presence at the schools was minimal.
Back then, Davis waved away questions from New Times, saying, "I don't like being part of a fishing expedition. We don't have anything to hide."
Francis mentioned his suspicions to me in passing but left the newspaper before ever writing about them. In 2011, I suggested to federal authorities that they might want to check that Davis was providing services equal to the grant dollars he was receiving. The Department of Education passed the tip to the Department of Justice, which ran with it.
Davis has not responded to numerous emails requesting comment. Interest on his fine is now accruing at 15 percent APR, or about $20.55 per day. According to court documents, "the payment terms [are] not excused by the commencement of bankruptcy."
A federal agent investigating Davis' case said that it was always unlikely the pastor would face criminal charges and jail time, given the high cost of prosecution.
I complained, "So where's the deterrence? I didn't do years of grunt work just to be Uncle Sam's collection department. I'm all about the perp walk."
This guest column was submitted by Chaz Stevens, winner of the 2010 New Times Gadfly of the Year award. Stevens is a political activist whose whistleblower complaints and independent investigations have led to the arrest and removal of three elected officials. He writes for the blog MyActsOfSedition.com.
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