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Are CC business' COVID relief grants legitimate? Better Business Bureau weighs in

Viewers have asked 3NEWS if 361 Grants, a service that charges a $150 fee to sign you up for COVID relief grants, are real. We looked into it.

CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — 3NEWS viewers have been asking about a service called 361 Grants operating out of the El Barrio Food Pantry on 19th Street. Customers there have been leaving with paperwork instead of food, along with hopes of a big payout down the line.

For a $150 fee, the pantry is offering to sign people up for what they say are COVID relief grants that offer between $10,000-$30,000.

Some customers assumed the business was a nonprofit, but it's not. 3NEWS reached out to the Better Business Bureau to ask about the legitimacy of this operation. They pointed out the red flags customers should be aware of.

"The $150 is actually for the fee for the grant writer," said Linda Munoz, President of the El Barrio Food Pantry. "Grant writers are always going to charge a fee. Any grant writer. And so that's what that is for."

"We need to question when somebody is asking us for payment upfront for a service like this," said Better Business Bureau Regional Director Katie Galan.

Many are asking if 361 Grants is a scam, but many others are handing over their money.

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"I wouldn't say thousands, but it's probably in the hundreds," Munoz said.

Munoz runs the El Barrio Food Pantry, located at 816 S. 19th St., and is also taking in the grant applications.

"This is a good way for, for people to, for, for our Texans to get back on their feet and, and hopefully, you know, get them back on track," Munoz said.

However, it's not a grant from the state or the federal government.

"If someone is asking you for money in order to process an application for a federally funded grant, that is illegal," Galan said.

"That fee is given to us, but those funds are not federal, or government funded grants," Munoz said.

Instead, Munoz said they are private grants. As for where they get the money or how they will give out tens of thousands of dollars in the future, that is unclear.

"Those are private entities, corporations, like I said, anonymous donors that, that donate that money," Munoz said.

The $150 that people are paying up front is taken right away.

"We can do cash. We can do check, or we do some of the other digital services like Cash App, Zelle, things like that," Munoz said.

"Venmo, Zelle, those types of things, it's basically like paying with cash," Galan said. "So somebody's telling you, 'Oh, I can take cash, but I can take these too,' well, it's pretty much one in the same. It's both like paying with cash. It's untraceable. Bottom line is once it's gone, it's gone."

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And as far as the organization's nonprofit status, Munoz said they have applied for 501 c3 status. That, however, does not mean the title of nonprofit has been earned just yet.

"We're just waiting for the application," Munoz said. "Then it’ll get sent to the IRS."

So for now the company is not a nonprofit, and it is not clear how they will make good on their private grant promises.

After 3NEWS inquired about 361 Grants, the organization sent the following statement: "We have emailed all of our clients clarifying what the difference is in the grants and what they signed up for. We have also let them know that if they do not wish to move forward with the grant application they can contact us and we will gladly cancel and give a full refund."

3NEWS did ask again via email asking the name of the grants that people are applying for and where the money is coming from. The organization responded saying, "We will no longer answer your questions!!! You are no longer allowed on property."

3NEWS also reached out to the Corpus Christi Police Department. They said there is no active investigation.

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