I-TEAM: Oklahoma-based ministry illegally panhandling

Clay County Sheriff's Office says ministry does not have panhandling permit

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CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – You may have seen them around town: self-described religious organizations, panhandling at busy intersections around the Jacksonville area. 

One group was spotted around Clay County, saying they’re part of the Saved by Grace Restoration Ministries out of Oklahoma. The group usually wears bright vests and approaches people’s car windows asking for money. 

News4Jax spoke to a group Tuesday at the busy intersection of County Road 220 and U.S. Highway 17 to ask where to money was going and If they could legally collect it. 

“We help men, women and children who are on drugs and alcohol,” ministry member Charlie Wilson said. “We help people get off the streets. We pulled seven people off Jacksonville streets. Things y’all won’t do.”

The group claimed to have a permit to panhandle in Clay County, but the Clay County Sheriff’s Office said it doesn't. While News4Jax was at the scene a deputy showed up, gave the group a warning and asked them to leave. 

The group didn’t heed the warning and was spotted the following day at the intersection of Kingsley Avenue and Blanding Boulevard. 

According to the IRS’s website, Saved by Grace Restoration Ministries is registered with the government as a 501(c)(3) charity, similar to a group called Deeper Life Ministries. When News4Jax confronted Deeper Life last August on Jacksonville’s Southside, they ran. The groups, however, are not related.

News4jax crime analyst Gil Smith said if the group pops up again without a permit in Clay or Duval counties, they could be cited. 

“They can cite them the first time,” Smith said. “There’s nothing that says they can’t cite them the first time. There’s nothing that says you get a warning. (The deputy) just used discretion out of goodness of his heart (and) decided not to cite them.”

News4Jax reached out to the Oklahoma-based ministry to provide financial information and was told a minister would return a call. News4Jax has not yet received a comment. 

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