TAMPA — Television cameras descended on Without Walls International Church on Thursday for back-to-back news conferences about a racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the head pastor's son.
Outside at noon: the accuser, Joshua Brian Randolph, a 24-year-old computer repair technician from Georgia who said Brandon White sent him e-mails calling him a "n-----" five times.
Inside at 1:30 p.m.: Barry Cohen, the church attorney, who described what he called proof that the suit was a "racial con job."
There were standing ovations.
There were shouts of praise.
There were threats of more lawsuits.
There was no indication this would end any time soon.
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Here's a primer: In July, Without Walls officials began having conversations with someone they thought was former NBA player and coach Avery Johnson, who said he wanted to start a youth ministry at the church. The supposed Johnson said he would send his representative, Randolph, to pave the way.
In August, Randolph arrived. Within a few days, he had a dispute with Brandon White about the use of a church vehicle. Both sides agree on that much.
Randolph claims that White made offensive racial jokes. The church says that its officials soon became suspicious after Randolph didn't know facts about Johnson.
Earlier this month, Randolph filed a federal lawsuit alleging that White sent him e-mails with racial epithets. He provided the Times with e-mails sent from Yahoo and Gmail accounts. He also filed a civil claim for $4,200 he said he was owed for his hotel stay, wages and other expenses, which the church says it never agreed to pay.
On Wednesday, an attorney for Johnson released a statement saying the famous athlete didn't know Randolph and had never contacted Without Walls. The e-mails and text messages the church got? Fake, the attorney said. Investigators working for Cohen traced the phone number to Randolph's computer repair business.
When told a simple Internet search reveals the link, Randolph continued to deny he ever had that number. He called the Johnson impersonation argument a distraction from the racism allegations.
"They deny, deny, deny, deny, deny, and then they end up settling everything out of court," Randolph told the Times.
The next day, before a conference room full of church members and reporters, Cohen would capitalize on that quote as an indicator Randolph wanted money out of the church.
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Cohen spoke with the inflection of a preacher.
"I've got news for Josh Randolph," he said.
"Amen!" someone bellowed.
"There ain't gonna be no settlement," he said. "He's going to end up in prison for these hate crimes that he committed."
Cohen said the proof that Randolph posed as Johnson is evidence that he also posed as White in the e-mails — that and a polygraph test Cohen said White passed.
Brandon White, 26, spoke publicly about the case for the first time. He said he can't look at people without wondering if they believe the allegations. He said he hasn't been able to sleep.
Then, his mother spoke. Paula White said she started the church to promote racial harmony.
"We're drawing the line and saying enough is enough," she said. She turned to Cohen and told him, "Use the legal system as far as you can, as hard as you can and as long as you can."
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Outside earlier that day, Randolph stood alone. He said he took his own polygraph test, and that it proved he was telling the truth.
"Money never crossed my mind," he said. "Exposure crossed my mind. I wanted Tampa to know these people are racists."
He added, "I'm not going to make this a media frenzy."
Then, he passed out some copies:
The racist e-mails. A page he said was missing from his discrimination lawsuit in which he now asks for $2 million.
An exchange from an Internet forum in which someone claims to have an incriminating video of the Whites.
And a letter from an anonymous person making claims about Paula White's personal life, touching on her son's paternity, allegations of adultery and the "use" and "abuse" of "hundreds of faithful friends."
Randolph ended with an announcement: He planned to file a federal lawsuit against Barry Cohen that afternoon. He did.
Alexandra Zayas can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3354.