Congressman linked to controversial civil rights group

June 9, 2009

Congressman Alan Grayson has had a close relationship with a civil rights group for which he tried to get hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars. As WDBO first reported Monday, the freshman Representative requested $350-thousand for the Florida Civil Rights Association, despite its history of controversy, and being run by a man the state says is not trustworthy enough to be a bail bondsman.

Grayson was actually a member of the FCRA before winning his seat in Congress, and became visibly angry when WDBO brought up his connections to the non-profit and its controversial chief, J. Willie David, a former bail bondsman and who one founding member calls a con-artist.

“Am I supposed to disqualify them, because I was at one point a member of this organization?” said Grayson. “I don’t understand your point.”

The FCRA also listed Grayson as its “national legal advisor” before removing the posting a few weeks ago. And people who helped on the Orlando Democrat’s campaign say David also volunteered for Grayson.

The group also gave Grayson an award (shown in picture) in 2007, they say for his work suing Iraq war profiteers. He touted it during the campaign on his website and in interviews.

Grayson says he deserved the Humanitarian of the Year award.

“I was the attorney of record on every single case, every single case, that was litigated in federal court against war profiteers in Iraq and won landmark decisions for employee rights that have changed the law all over the country,” Grayson said. “So if it deserves to be recognized, and the organization recognized me, what exactly is wrong with that?”

What’s odd is the group apparently created that award just for Grayson: The FCRA’s state secretary says they didn’t give a Humanitarian award to anybody in 2005, 2006, or 2008.

Some former members, including one co-founder of the FCRA, fear any money from the feds would only go to David. The non-profit says appropriations would come with strings attached, and go through a board of directors vote to determine where it would be spent. The FCRA hoped to spend it on helping people stay out of foreclosure.

Either way, the money is not coming this way: after WDBO aired the first story on the earmark, Grayson’s staff told us a Congressional subcommittee had decided against funding the request. Grayson was not on the subcommittee that made the decision.


Part 1 of the 2-part Investigation

Hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars could go to a civil rights group with a history of controversy. Congressman Alan Grayson is requesting a $350-thousand earmark for the non-profit group run by a man who, state regulators have said, is not trustworthy enough to be a bail bondsman. And it’s a group to which Grayson has had a close relationship.

Grayson’s request is one of dozens of earmarks, or appropriations as they are officially called, that he’s proposed. But the $350,000 for the Florida Civil Rights Association is raising eyebrows.

The group is run by its president, a man who goes by the name J. Willie David. He’s a former bail bondsman, once accused by the state of stealing money from clients, and who a founding member of the organization claims extorted money out of orphans.

“I say Willie is a professional con-artist, and a crook,” said Willie Johnson, a co-founder and former Vice President of the FCRA.

Johnson quit the FCRA in 2007 after finding out that David had filed court papers demanding more than $100-thousand for his and the group’s work holding news conferences and sending out press releases for the orphaned kids of Frantz and Carole Leandre. The parents were killed by a speeding suspect during a chase with Orange County deputies.

“I was totally shocked,” Johnson said. “I told Willie I’m not going to be a part of that. Because we were not going to charge anybody for our services.”

Johnson and FCRA’s own website says the group would be funded by donations and dues fees from members. But J. Willie David’s troubles don’t stop there.

He’s been charged with felonies in both Orange and Seminole Counties for work related to his then-day job as a bail bondsman. He was charged with theft in Seminole County for not returning bond money to a client even after a judge had released him from his bond, and in Orange County he was charged with failure to return collateral for a similar situation.

Both cases were eventually dropped by prosecutors, but the state found his conduct serious enough to revoke his bail bondsman license. In its court filing, the state Department of Financial Services says David “demonstrated lack of fitness or trustworthiness to engage in the bail bond business” and used “fraudulent or dishonest practices in the conduct of business.”

Even so, Congressman Grayson wants hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars to go to the group. He says David’s history should not keep the FCRA from getting the funding.

“There are over a million people in Florida who are in exactly the same position, who have paid their debt to society,” Grayson told WDBO. “We are not going to exclude people who are qualified, who can do the job, who have proven that they can do the job in the past, on the basis simply of controversy.”…

… “A lot of that will be going into training, a lot of it will be going into, some of those people are not going to be able to afford an attorney,” Jones said. “So if it allows us to actually help with some of the upfront money for them to get counseling from an attorney, then we will also try to make sure that that’s done as well.”

But another former member, Tim Adams, says in the end, he worries David will do what he wants with the money.

“It’s obvious that when money comes in, it goes to Willie David. All of us know that. It’s not something that needs to be guessed about.”

WDBO asked multiple times for an interview with David, but he declined. FCRA Secretary Marsha Watson said the money would not go anywhere except for where it’s intended.

“Appropriations come with very strict guidelines, and there’s accountability,” Watson said. “This organization is operated by a board. This is not a Willie David organization.” Watson says this would be the first time the FCRA ever received money from a government of any level.

The group would not provide its IRS filings, which would show how much money it’s pulled in and where it goes, including if members of the organization are paid. And the non-profit’s filings do not appear on, a database that compiles them. Grayson has also had a close relationship with the FCRA.


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