Witnessing? for Christ in Ybor

Back off from Ybor patrons, church is told

By Michael Van Sickler, Times staff writer

In print: Saturday, May 17, 2008

TAMPA — Along the sin-soaked streets of Ybor City, Scientologists compete against bull-horn-toting evangelical Christians and Jesus Christ look-a-likes for their latest converts.

But to some of the entertainment district’s business owners and patrons, those attention-grabbing methods for saving souls are nothing compared to the persistent — critics say overly aggressive — tactics of a newly arrived religious group.

“We’re used to seeing religious groups and protesters in Ybor,” said Tony LaColla, president of the Historic Ybor Civic Association. “But this is different. This group is hurting business and scaring away customers.”

At Hillsborough Community College, the group — called the Breakthrough City Church — has been repeatedly warned that members are being too aggressive with students, said Ashley Carl, a college spokeswoman.

“We’ve called the police three times; that’s how bad it is,” Carl said. One member followed a student into the classroom, she said, while others have been known to trap students on the sidewalk as they try to get to class.

“They get right in your face,” said John Soto, a 21-year-old Wesley Chapel resident who said he encountered members two months ago outside a gay club. “I think it’s a potentially dangerous situation.”

The church is led in part by the Revs. David and Esther Crownborn, a husband-and-wife team who sermonize in a theater at Muvico Centro Ybor. On Wednesday night, clad in a powder blue three-piece suit, David Crownborn offered salvation from center stage across the hall from theaters that throbbed with showings of Iron Man and Speed Racer.

“I renounce you, Satan, and all your demons,” Crownborn told a young, mostly female congregation of 20. “I will not partake in your destruction of Jesus.”

In five weeks, the church has grown to 850 members, Crownborn said. On most nights, members take to the streets in small groups to find new believers. Amid a religious revival that he says is spawned by worsening economic times, Crownborn promises growth and a wider presence.

“When people go through tough times, they come to God,” he said.

Crownborn won’t say where he’s from. He says his regal name is for real, not an alias.

Records and news reports show the Crownborns moved to Tampa after spending several years in Ireland. They owned software companies that became news in the Irish media. Various accounts report that their companies went out of business and left mountains of debt.

In 2007, the Crownborns were restricted from serving as directors of any Irish company until 2012, according to the Sunday Business Post of Dublin, Ireland.

Crownborn, who is black, said the media maligned them as part of a racially motivated campaign to drive them out of the country. He said that the campaign was supported by labor unions and a competing company that he wouldn’t name. None of the allegations in the articles are true, he said.

“I learned there is so much more to life than the pursuit of money,” Crownborn, who ended Wednesday’s night sermon with a request for donations by check or credit card.

Some fret that Ybor, especially its burgeoning gay district, needs to brace for future confrontation with church members. But Crownborn said his group doesn’t target homosexuals.

“God loves the homosexual person,” he said. “But the actual activity of homosexuality is not supported by Scripture.”

Members aren’t instructed to be aggressive, he said.

“Our motto is to be gentle and kind,” Crownborn said.

But Carrie West, co-owner of MCFilmFest, a gay-themed novelty store on N 15th Street, said a church member blocked the entrance of his shop a few weeks ago, trying to scare customers away.

“They’re militants about what they do,” West said.

Members like Emily Maldonado, a 19-year-old sales associate at Victoria’s Secret, said too much is being made of the church. She said it’s harmless as it reaches out to new members. She said she gets personal attention that she never got from the Catholic Church.

“They keep in touch with you,” she said. “They’re nice.”

Times staff researcher John Martin and staff writer Alexandra Zayas contributed to this story. Michael Van Sickler can be reached at

(813) 226-3402.

[Last modified: May 16, 2008 11:20 PM]

The Ireland connection:

GlobalMobileVision.com Scandal

Workers Rights Violated, Odd Background of Company That May Not Exist

A Dublin “technology” company with links to Christian religious groups in America has been accused of intimidating staff, of failing to pay salaries, and sexual harrassment. Its work practices are bizarre. Fire escapes are locked. Management deny the allegations.

A number of staff members were fired for various reasons. Some staff went without pay for up to 10 weeks. If the ex-staff members did receive P45s a number were duplicated, with different information. Some of these people suspect they were fired for asking two many questions.

Global Mobile Vision was incorporated in the UK in August 2004 and has had offices in Nangor road business park in Clondalkin since November 2004. The company is run by David Crownborn, his wife, Esther Crownborn, his brother, Matthew Crownborn and the latter’s wife Deborah King.

The company’s main contacts are with American Evangelist groups, staff said. It has recently being involved in contacts in the US with evangelist media organisations about collaborating in business ventures.

Up to last Wednesday, Global Mobile Vision employed between approx. 60 staff at its offices in Clondalkin, north Dublin. GMV supposedly develops software for audio and video streaming technologies for 3G phones. Yet, a search of Vodafone, O2, Hutchinson, and other 2G and 3G mobile operators turn up a big zero for any partnerships. A search for “Global Mobile Vision” and other related search terms shows up nothing. Zero. Nil. No inbound, or outbound links anywhere. Very strange for a “high technology company with valuable intellectual property”. Its so “high technology” that no one know what they “do”. One would be forgiven for classifying this as “snakeoil”. Current and former staff said that they did almost no work at the company, they received few orders, no conrete work (other than “go search the Internet for a while”). One ex-staff member said “after one week, I eventually got a computer but it had no software. I had to use my own software – I told them I would use until I got me some official legal software but it never arrived.”

This was commonplace.

John Bates, an employee who is currently suspended from work, was detained last Wednesday 8th June as he tried to leave the office. He was accused by management of stealing IP (‘Intellectual Property’) from the company. No evidence was given. He was surrounded by a large number of people (including staff from Crimeforce Ireland, a security guard company), and until the Gardaí were called, he was held against his will in the GMV offices. After the Gardaí advised GMV to either a) make an allegation, or b) let Mr. Bates go, Mr. Bates left the offices accompanied by Finian McGrath, TD (Independent) for North Dublin, the Gardaí, and a number of journalists. You can read the full details of Mr. Bates account here and here.

Mr. Bates believes the reason he was singled out was becuase he was organizing staff in getting their due pay, and finding out the problems in GMV.

As stated in The Village article ”The Global Mobile Vision website lists postal contact details in London and Houston (Texas). But there are not telephone numbers listed for those addresses. A printed brochure gives a phone number in Delaware in the US, at which there is an automated message saying the voicemail service is full. Village has been unable to get through to a London telephone number listed in the same brochure. The company has no office at its official Dublin address, at 41 Lower Baggot St, but collects its mail from the building every week.” The company states on their headed notepaper that they are registered as company number. This number is not registered with the Company Registry Office for any company. Global Mobile Vision does not look like registered as a company. In fact no company is registered with these details at all. It does appear to be registered in the UK, but not in Ireland.

Until last Friday, 11 June, current and former staff were owed approx. €32,000 in pay by the company. The reasons? Problems with the payroll company, problems with the electronic banking, and other such stories. After this matter coming to the public notice (from my blogging, the Village Magazine, and political interest) these people have been paid their due wages. A small victory so far.

Staff members passports were taken, and photocopied, apparently for ‘security.’ They were under constent observation, both by staff and by security cameras. This was not normal. Another serious matter, the allegations of sexual harrassment were raised. Although GMV denied this and said it has ”a strict anti-harassment policy which is clearly stated in the company handbook and reiterated during staff meetings and at staff induction,” a number of ex-employees, particularly female, said they had been witness to or had been treated like this. One woman, obviously distressed, spoke about male members of the management ”massaging the backs of women” and ”having to give you your hug when you arrived in the morning.” A ”hub of female staff” was spoken about, which surrounded a male member of staff. No one from GMV has answered any questions regarding this matter. The only definate response that has been made by GMV (by Mr. Alexander Fitzgearld, the PR contact for GMV), has been to respond to a blog posting on my own blog.

At the meeting, Finian McGrath TD, paid tribute to the ex-employees and the current employees who were in pursuit of the truth with regards to the goings-on at Global Mobile Vision. He said he had met with a number of people who were visibly in fear for their situations. He said he had the upmost respect for them, and that he would follow this to the end.

Finian McGrath went to meet a number of representatives of GMV today. We have no word from him as to the outcome of the meeting.

GMV are reported to have received a large amount of taxpayer money from the IDA, for each employee they had. What exactly has happened to this money? No one seems to know. From sources I can confirm that GMV have enough money in their accounts to pay the current and former employees.

I sent an e-mail to BBC World and Euronews yesterday asking what kind of business relationship, if any, existed between BBC World and GMV. This morning I received an e-mail from a BBC World contact:

Hello and thank you for your email.
BBC World has an agreement in which Global Mobile Vision supplies the channel to Mobilkom mobile phone subscribers in Austria. This has been in operation for five months and is one of several such contracts that BBC World has with telecoms companies around the globe. We would not comment on any specific allegations about Global Mobile Vision.

Thank you for taking the trouble to write to us.

With regards

Enquiring about this BBC contract, I found out that it was a YBN contract which GMV inherited when they bought YBN. The only other business contact that can be confirmed is with Paula White a Christian religious group in America.

Finian McGrath has raised a number of Dáil questions with a number of Minister involved in industry in Ireland. The Village magazine will be running a follow up article in this weeks edition.

The story of Global Mobile Vision is not yet over. The government have to answer exactly how much these ‘businessmen’ received, and exactly what it was they told them to get it. Hopefully now that larger media outlets are taking notice of the story, they will have to stand accountable for what they have done.

Watch for Updates and Info at RunningWithBulls.com


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