The Department of Justice is facing controversy after a whistleblower’s complaint revealed that a group called “Hookers for Jesus” was awarded a $500,000 grant for anti-human trafficking work that had previously gone to more established and well-respected agencies.
As Reuters reported, the complaint came forward after two long-established non-profit organizations — Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Palm Beach and Chicanos Por La Causa of Phoenix – were originally recommended to receive grants and received top marks during the review process, but did not receive funding. The funding instead went to two organizations that did not score as well on an independent review and evaluation process, Hookers for Jesus and the Lincoln Tubman Foundation.
The controversy comes as Donald Trump’s spending on border security has come under pressure, with opponents trying to stop the president’s use of a state of emergency at the U.S. border to start building a wall. The Department of Justice has defended its funding decisions despite going against its own internal recommendations to fund other programs.
As the report noted, the decision was backed by Katharine Sullivan, who serves as the head of the department’s Office of Justice Programs. She said that all funding decisions come from a merit-based review system.
Hookers for Jesus is a Christian-based organization that was founded by a former victim of sex trafficking. The organization provides outreach to sex-trafficking victims and sex workers who are trying to leave the work. But the organization has also come under fire for its strict rules of women who live in its safehouse, including the ban on magazines with articles that portray “worldly views” on things liked makeup, clothing, and sex.
After the complaint, Sullivan told Reuters that the funding could come under further review.
“This might be something that may be appropriate for our civil rights department to look at. Those are not facts or things that we would know ahead of time,” she said.
Hookers for Jesus has had a higher profile within some traditional conservative media, including a feature on Fox News regarding sex trafficking during the Super Bowl. It was not clear what may have led the department to fund the programs over ones that scored higher.
The other organization receiving funding, the Lincoln Tubman Foundation, also came under scrutiny. The review memo noted that the group had “little to no experience” in the appropriate realm. The organization is headquartered in a mansion owned by the parents of the founder, Brooke Burris.