Promises of grants leaves North Carolina churches out thousands of dollars

ROBESON COUNTY, N.C. (WTVD) -- Many people pursue grants to fund projects, and there are professional grant preparers to help with those applications. But one local man promised local churches thousands, but instead, left them with less money than they started with.

Pastor Rosa Smith runs Straightway Outreach Center in Robeson County. It's a nonprofit clothes and food pantry that serves the community.

She wanted to redo the center, and she was introduced to a man who claimed to be a local grant writer, Ricky Lee Dawson.

"Well, I met him through the church," Smith said.

Smith said Dawson claimed he could get her a grant of $150,000 for her outreach center.

"I said OK, 'I'll give you 12 now and the other five,' which I did," Smith said. "Then he came back and asked for more money. So when it ended up, I had gave him $4,000."

Smith said Dawson wrote everything down that he would do to get the grant. She waited months for Dawson to deliver on the $150,000 grant, but it never happened. And now, Smith is suffering.

"I never had nobody swindle me out this type of money," Smith said. "I couldn't walk away and let him take my $4,000."

Smith isn't the only victim. We heard from a Fayetteville church, The Family Fellowship Ministry, which said they were trying to get money for a feed the homeless program. A member tells us she trusted Rick Dawson to get them the grants and paid him $3,000. But the member said they haven't seen a dime, just promises that he's still working on the grants.

It was the same story for another Fayetteville man who said he wanted a grant to help disabled veterans and paid Dawson $800 to get started, but also has seen nothing from Dawson.

We tried to reach out to Dawson several times, via email, and phone with no response. But Smith heard from him.

"He told me he was sorry," Smith said. "I asked him why did he do that to me. He said he didn't intentionally mean to do it to me. He said 'I want you to forgive me.'"

Smith said Dawson agreed to pay her $1,000 a month until she is fully paid back, but that was months ago and she hasn't seen anything from him so far.

"I'm praying that the Lord will open another door because I need the money to do some things. "So I'm just praying because I can't do nothing else if he don't give me my money... taking it one day at a time," Smith said.

Despite repeated attempts to talk to Dawson, he did not get back to us. In an email to one of his victims, Dawson apologizes and states this is not the way he does business and hopes to turn things around and refund those that did not want to go further with him, but that was months ago and no one has gotten any of their money back.

The best advice -- do not fall for these grant pitches. It is very hard to qualify and get government grants. A promise of large grants for filling out some paper work is not realistic.

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