TAMPA — Joshua Brian Randolph says the son of the prominent head pastor at Without Walls International Church called him the N-word in e-mails. In fact, he filed a racial discrimination lawsuit this month against the Tampa mega-church and Brandon White.
As proof, Randolph, 24, provided the Times with e-mails sent from Yahoo and Gmail accounts.
But Barry Cohen, the attorney representing the church, said Wednesday he has proof that Randolph has a history of impersonating others via fake e-mail accounts and telephone numbers, beginning with retired NBA player and coach Avery Johnson. Someone claiming to be Johnson told the church that Randolph would travel to Tampa as his representative to help with a youth ministry at Without Walls.
Johnson's attorney, Casey Marcin, said Wednesday the former player has never heard of Randolph or spoken to anyone at Without Walls church. He is a busy man and has a staff that answers his e-mails, the attorney said.
The e-mail "Johnson" used? "Avery.firstname.lastname@example.org." Fake, the attorney said.
The phone number? It had a 678 area code that Cohen's investigators say they traced back to Randolph.
Randolph, a computer repairman from Georgia, denied Wednesday that the phone number was his, even after being told that an Internet search shows it appeared in a classified post that expired Aug. 1 advertising the computer repair business along with his name.
Randolph later said he may have been duped by a Johnson impersonator but denied orchestrating the ruse. Then he sent a statement saying that until his own investigation is complete, he believes he spoke to Johnson.
He also said he still believes the racist e-mails came from White.
"They deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, and then they end up settling everything out of court," Randolph said.
Without Walls began communicating with the person Cohen says pretended to be Johnson via e-mail and telephone in July. That person said he would send Randolph to Tampa to begin setting up a youth ministry. Randolph arrived in August.
The church says he was there on a voluntary basis. Randolph says he was there as an employee. The church says Randolph claimed to have Johnson's credit card to book the hotel room, but then said it wasn't working. Randolph said the church agreed to pay his hotel stay.
Cohen says church officials began to question Randolph's connection to Johnson when he did not know things he should have about the famous athlete.
Randolph says he was at the church for just a few days before having a run-in with Brandon White over use of a church vehicle. He says he heard White make several offensive and racist jokes, and that he later got e-mails using the N-word five times.
Church officials say Randolph lasted at the church for just 10 days.
This month, Randolph filed two lawsuits against Without Walls without the help of an attorney. One in federal court alleges racial discrimination.
The civil suit in Hillsborough Circuit court states a claim of $4,200 that includes lost wages, a hotel bill and all other expenses the church promised to pay.
Cohen said the church plans to countersue Randolph and seek criminal charges.
"This is not some typical little lawsuit," Cohen said. "This is a statement to let people know no one is going to bully this church anymore."
Randolph says that Cohen has not taken any of his calls, and that the threats of charges are simply a ploy to get him to withdraw the case.
As for the racism allegations, Cohen said the church takes them very seriously, noting that many of its members are African-American. Brandon White, the son of head pastor Paula White, passed a polygraph test, Cohen said. And Randolph's history of impersonation would indicate the White e-mails were fabricated.
"I think for some reason this is some disgruntled, dysfunctional misfit who is making these terrible accusations because he's trying to cause a problem for this church," Cohen said.
Without Walls and Cohen plan to hold a news conference at the church at 1:30 p.m. today. Randolph plans on holding one of his own outside the church at noon.
Randolph said he spoke to the president of the local chapter of the NAACP, Carolyn Collins. He said she would be there.
When reached by phone Wednesday, Collins said she was not aware of the lawsuit or any news conference. She said she would have to be notified if anyone representing the NAACP was scheduled to appear.
She had not heard anything.
Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.