Current, former court employees raise concerns about juvenile karate program

City unaware of whether instructor is running for-profit or nonprofit program

SAN ANTONIO – A seven-month investigation by the KSAT 12 Defenders uncovered security concerns and financial inconsistencies within a juvenile karate program held inside San Antonio's Municipal Court.

The Young Defenders, a karate class formed in 2010 and taught by instructor Al Francis to help straighten out behavioral issues in local teenagers charged with low-level offenses like truancy, has been criticized by current and former court employees.

For one, Saturday sessions of the court-ordered class take place on the second floor of the downtown court, in the former property room of the San Antonio Police Department.

A member of The Defenders, who took his son to a class undercover in July, captured footage of the room showing rows and columns of banker boxes separated from the class by a few rows of chairs.

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By our count, the room contained more than 1,100 boxes.

Multiple sources said the boxes are filled with case files and booking slips containing personal, sensitive information of former defendants and should be stored in a secure facility.

Juvenile Court Case Manager Timothy Holloway, the only city employee made available to speak with The Defenders for this story, said the boxes contain "something along the lines of booking slips," but was unable to provide additional information about their contents.

Holloway said after we reached out to the city for a comment on this story, the boxes were pushed farther back. 

City officials earlier this month declined our request to shoot footage inside the room, since staff members were still in the process of clearing out the boxes.

A juvenile court employee, who resigned earlier this year and spoke with KSAT 12 on the condition that we not reveal her name, described the class as disorganized.

A sign-in sheet for the class obtained by us shows writing that is at times illegible.

"They don't really know who is finished and who is not finished. So if you're finished with your 10 or 15 sessions and you're still going, we're paying extra money for you to go," said the former employee.

She also said court staff only recently began to properly track how many classes teens had attended, after a parent complained that she was paying Francis directly for classes held at the court's east side location even though the city was covering the cost.

"It's not double billing," said Francis during an interview in front of his house last month.

He claimed he has kids in the classes whose parents pay for them to attend, in addition to the court-ordered teens whose expenses for the course are paid by the city.

"We didn't pay one dime, we truly gained," said Dionne Langford, whose son was ordered to take the course after being charged with truancy his junior year of high school.

Langford said that the class taught her son responsibility and accountability and that he continued attending classes for six months after completing the court requirements.

Francis and a juvenile case manager said the extra classes were covered under a scholarship, said Langford, who confirmed she did not pay for classes at any point while her son was being taught by Francis.

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Finance records provided by the city show from November 2010 to April 2017, it paid more than $38,300 for the class to be taught.

The city has not provided an explanation why checks were made out to a person named Jose Ayala for the first 34 months the program existed.

Francis, who worked as a city of San Antonio employee for more than 30 years before retiring in 2002, is considered a "vendor" when it comes to the karate course.

The city did not begin writing checks to Francis for the class until January 2014, according to records.

The checks written to both men contain a recipient address with an identical street number and only a slight variation on the street name.

Ayala's checks indicate he resided on North Avenue, while Francis' indicate he resides on Northaven.

"I was teaching the class, but he was also helping me teach the class," said Francis, who referred to Ayala as a former roommate.

The Defenders could find no public records of anyone named Jose Ayala ever living at Francis' home in the 200 block of Northaven.

Texas secretary of state records show an entity called the All Federation Karate Organization (AFKO) was registered under Francis.

However, the company forfeited existence in 1995, meaning its license was made inactive by the state.

According to an information sheet obtained by the member of The Defenders whose son took the class in July, Francis now advertises his group as the Al Francis Karate Organization, a "non-profitable" that asks for a $55 "donation" to register for the class.

However, The Defenders could find no record that Francis, the All Federation Karate Organization or the Al Francis Karate Organization has registered with the Internal Revenue Service to receive tax-exempt status.

Francis, when questioned last month about whether or not he was a non-profit, said, "I have a student that is registered as a nonprofit and I'm under him."

Francis refused to provide us the student's name for verification purposes.

Holloway said he was unaware that Francis had ever advertised as a non-profit but referred all of our fiscal questions about the class to the city's finance department.

City officials released a statement this month that said the department that oversees the karate program "is unaware as to how Young Defenders handles issues for tax purposes."

When asked whether AFKO's murky financial status is a concern for the city, Holloway responded, "I think what's a concern for the city is there are a lot of youth out there requiring guidance and assistance and that the Young Defenders program is definitely providing that."

Although Langford said Francis does not hide from his criminal history, Francis abruptly ended his interview with The Defenders last month after we brought it up.

In November 1984, Francis was charged with unlawful carry of a weapon.

He was convicted of the charge in February 1986, according to a background check.

In December 1984, Francis was accused of using petroleum distillate, a kerosene-like substance, to set a car on fire.

He was indicted two months later and in March 1986 agreed to plead guilty to felony arson, according to court records.

In May 1986, he was sentenced to five years probation, according to records.

"He has no criminal history that would prevent him from working with youth," said Holloway, who conceded that he was unaware of any specifics related to Francis' criminal history until we told him.

Bexar County criminal court records show Francis was also charged with assault causing bodily injury after a man said Francis stomped on his hand and fired a pistol at him during a July 1983 incident.

A jury found Francis not guilty in March 1986, according to court records.

Civil court records revealed other legal troubles for Francis.

While working for the city at the Lincoln Park Recreation Center in October 1984, Francis was accused along with another man, George Johnson, of severely beating a man attending a dance.

The victim, who filed suit against Francis, Johnson and the city of San Antonio in October 1986, said Francis struck him in the left temple and ribs using an illegal pair of "nunchucks," while Johnson beat him with a baseball bat, according to the lawsuit.

The victim suffered injuries that included a concussion and a broken nose and had to have his right eye surgically removed immediately after the incident and was no longer able to work, according to the suit.

He also had to have tubes inserted into his left eye and left temple to drain fluids, according to a notice of claim for damage attached to the original suit.

The suit was dismissed in 1989, after one of the parties named in it died, according to court records.

Although The Defenders could find no record that Francis was ever arrested for the incident, Johnson was eventually charged with aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury.

The criminal case was dismissed in 1987 because of a missing witness, according to court records.

A biography on Francis' website refers to him as a "two-time karate Olympic champion."

However, karate was not introduced as an Olympic sport until last year and will not make its debut until the 2020 Summer Olympic games.

When asked about the discrepancy, Holloway said Francis was simply using language used by karate organizations to describe their competitions.

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