KANSAS CITY, Mo. - From the opening bell, there was controversy.
Chances are, most people in Kansas City have heard details surrounding $15,000 of taxpayer money, a story that has played out since it first made headlines last November.
The funds were supposed to pay for an event featuring world-famous boxer Floyd Mayweather Jr.
But the planned event never happened. Despite demands from City Hall, the organizers never returned the money. Kansas City police launched a fraud investigation. And the entire time, the city councilman who requested the funds remained tight-lipped about the issue.
Now, 41 Action News has spoken exclusively with a woman who is convinced the taxpayer money was used to help keep a sexting scandal out of the public spotlight. And she's shared her story with the FBI.
Online relationship leads to nude photos
In late 2011, a Kansas City woman left the area to escape a domestic violence situation. Nicole only told immediate family where she was living. (Note: Nicole is not her real name. Because she fears for her safety, 41 Action News is not identifying her)
The following spring, Nicole logged onto Facebook and posted testimony about getting a fresh start in a new place.
She said the post drew the support of many Facebook friends, including Michael Brooks, the pastor at Zion Grove Baptist Church and elected leader of Kansas City's fifth council district.
Nicole personally thanked each of the people who had "liked" her post.
"The relationship grew from there," Nicole said during an on-camera interview with 41 Action News.
First, Nicole said she and Brooks exchanged private Facebook messages. Then, they started to talk on the phone.
"Just the mere fact that someone was paying me attention. I didn't realize I was vulnerable," Nicole said.
In July of 2011, Nicole and Brooks started to exchange photos of each other by text message. The first pictures were harmless enough. But others followed, including nude photos of the married pastor and councilman.
Nicole shared the photos with 41 Action News to back up her story.
Next - ‘They wanted to set him up'
Nicole said she and Brooks started to discuss meeting in person for the first time, possibly while Brooks was traveling out-of-state.
"First, I wanted to find out more about who he was as a person, so I reached out to people," Nicole said.
One of those people was Ron Hunt, a vocal community activist Nicole said she had met years earlier. Hunt seemed connected to the political scene.
When they spoke, Nicole said Hunt was skeptical she had developed an online relationship with the married councilman. To prove it, she sent Hunt a couple of the photos.
"He immediately got excited and said, ‘I got someone else I want to add in this conversation.' So he clicked over and that's when Ossco Bolton came into the picture," Nicole said.
Bolton is the leader of an anti-violence group called P.O.S.S.E. and later would become the center of the Mayweather controversy.
For months, Bolton and Hunt had unsuccessfully tried to score city funding for the Mayweather idea.
"Both of them were excited," Nicole said. "Ron said, ‘We got him. We got him.' They wanted to set (Brooks) up. They wanted to fly me up to Kansas City and put me in a hotel room. One of them was to be in the closet and they wanted to tape us."
Nicole said she realized she had reached out to the wrong person. She said she told Brooks about the disturbing conversation and apologized.
According to her, Brooks told her not to speak to Bolton or Hunt anymore and said they would put it behind them.
Text message mentions ‘blackmail'
However, Nicole said communication steadily deteriorated between her and Brooks. He stopped talking on the phone and only sent text messages, she said.
And then, Nicole said the topic of money first surfaced.
"(Brooks) sent me a message that said Ossco had come to see him at his church and asked for $15,000 or said he and Ron were going to deliver the pictures," she told 41 Action News.
Nicole said Brooks acted defiant and said he would not be giving out any money.
But in late August, Nicole received this text message from Brooks:
"People around right now. I will call you later. This is all about money and I get that, but you had that without the threat. You still on the same mindset. I see it's not going to end. All of you have blackmail on your mind. Wonder if it's a federal offense to extort money from a public official. You will know shortly," the message said.
It continued: "You know what, I was wrong. Made a very bad decision. Sent some questionable stuff. But none of it is illegal. But what you are doing is. The people that love me and matter have forgiven me. But you got one shot to say what you got to say and then I get to respond and I will. Is this worth going to jail? You decide."
Nicole said it is the last message she ever received from Brooks. She sought advice from her pastor about what to do and he advised her to move on and let it go, she said.
Nicole says she deleted messages and blocked people on Facebook.
"But something within me said, ‘Keep this text and the pictures,'" Nicole said, referencing the text that mentioned blackmail. "All the other ones I did delete because I was walking away. And that's what I did. I walked away."
Next - Behind the scenes of the request for $15,000
People directly involved with the story have been tight-lipped when pressed for answers. But records obtained by 41 Action News help piece together some of the details.
According to two different city grant applications submitted by Bolton and Hunt, the deal to bring Mayweather Jr. to Kansas City only needed funding to make a reality.
"(We) met with Floyd Mayweather and his staff, to discuss our interest for him to visit Kansas City. He agrees to participate for a fee," the applications said.
Neither of the formal applications received approval.
When the scheduled Mayweather appearance never occurred last December, Bolton and Brooks publicly claimed the idea had been derailed by negative publicity.
However, details uncovered from the police fraud investigation suggest the boxer was not coming for the event, regardless how Kansas City residents embraced the idea.
On a Friday in late October, Bolton picked up the $15,000 check from City Hall. Almost immediately, he and Hunt booked plane tickets to Las Vegas.
Hunt's contact person had been Roger Mayweather, the boxer's uncle. According to a police interview with Bolton, Roger Mayweather had asked them to wire the $15,000 fee to him and he would arrange details for the Kansas City appearance.
Bolton told the detective he felt uneasy about the idea, so he wanted to go to Las Vegas to ink the deal with Mayweather Jr. in person. He and Hunt had also heard the boxer might be coming to a Kansas City nightclub in November and they wanted to get him booked for their event first.
But in Las Vegas, it became clear the uncle had overstated his involvement with the world-famous boxer, Bolton said.
When asked by a police detective if he ever spoke with Mayweather Jr., Bolton replied, "No. Nobody did. That would have been the hardest thing in the world to do."
The 280-page police investigation contained subpoenaed bank statements, which revealed some of the taxpayer funds had paid for the Vegas trip and other promotional items surrounding the planned event.
However, detectives noted the expenses from Bolton's POSSE bank account also included cellphone bills, convenience store trips and men's clothing.
Hunt also received taxpayer funds for a "consulting fee" and reimbursement for the Vegas trip, according to an invoice contained in the police investigation.
In late May, 41 Action News was the first to report the Jackson County Prosecutor had declined to file charges related to the fraud investigation.
However, the police investigation did not uncover anything related to the sexting photos or the "blackmail" text from Brooks.
Next - How does councilman respond to allegations surrounding money?
The police investigation did have details about Brooks' request to the city manager for the funds, saying he had asked for them to be "expedited." Brooks also admitted to a detective that details for the event "had not been worked out" when he requested the $15,000.
The city council has since passed different ethics rules for similar funding requests. But in a statement on a gospel radio station in June, Brooks refuted that anything out of the ordinary had occurred, saying it was standard practice at the time.
"The twist and the lie to the story is that I used my influence to twist Troy Schulte's arm to make him give us the $15,000, which is just totally a blatant lie," Brooks said on the radio.
Following the radio address, Brooks did not answer questions from 41 Action News or other media outlets that had gathered in the parking lot.
By that point, 41 Action News had spoken to Nicole and began trying to request a response from the councilman.
When phone calls and emails were not returned, 41 Action News approached Brooks on two separate occasions at City Hall to see if an interview could be scheduled. Brooks was informed of the conversations with Nicole, along with the text message and the photos. Those attempts did not generate a response, either.
So 41 Action News contacted criminal defense attorney, John Picerno. Nicole said she had received a phone call from Picerno last year and he'd asked if she planned to release the photos.
The high-profile attorney was last seen on TV representing the parents of missing baby Lisa Irwin. And it turned out Picerno did represent Brooks. He agreed to an interview with 41 Action News on behalf of his client.
"This is really a non-issue," Picerno said. "It's good for TV ratings. It's good to put in the newspaper. But in the grand scheme of things, it's a lot of smoke without any fire."
41 Action News tried asking about the explosive text message sent by Brooks, specifically the excerpt that said, "All of you have blackmail on your mind."
Picerno did not dispute that Brooks sent the text. However, he would not get into specifics about the message, only repeatedly insisting that it had nothing to do with the $15,000.
41 Action News also asked why Brooks would request money for an event proposed by a known political adversary like Hunt, who actively campaigned in support of Brooks' opponent in the city council election.
Picerno said his client had no idea Hunt was involved with the event. Brooks' only point of contact was Bolton with whom the councilman had a good relationship, Picerno said.
However, emails obtained by 41 Action News through an open-records request tell a different story.
In early October, an email states that Brooks met with the city manager to discuss "Ron Hunt's POSSE proposal." On October 22, an email says Brooks met with Hunt at a Kansas City restaurant. The following day, Hunt emailed an invoice for the $15,000 to Brooks' city council office.
41 Action News asked Picerno if the event organizers ever told Brooks they had the embarrassing photos in their possession. Once again, Picerno would not directly answer the question. He reiterated there was no blackmail tied to the $15,000 and said Brooks was not pressured to request the funds.
After seeing this investigation on 41 Action News Wednesday night, Councilman Brooks sent the following email to his colleagues:
I want to respond personally to all of you about the situation in the news tonight. I want to apologize for the horrible lack of judgment concerning my involvement with this lady. It was a terrible mistake and totally out of line. However that's where the truth of the story ends. The lies both intended and otherwise as well as the total disregard for the truth by 41 news is a major concern. As I have stated before there is absolutely no connection between her blackmail attempt, and the Mayweather event. The truth will be told and despite knowing the truth 41 news proceeded to report the lies. There will be a formal response to them. I just want to take this opportunity to offer my apology jeopardizing your trust, and for disrespecting my position. This is now a private matter between my wife, my family and the church and we will handle it accordingly.
Asking for your prayers.
Michael E. Brooks, Councilman
5th District, City of Kansas City, Mo."
Next - Organizer admits to having the photos
Despite numerous attempts, Bolton has never responded to any calls or emails seeking comment about the controversy.
Via email, Hunt also said he had no interest in an interview. But 41 Action News tracked him down in his work parking lot and he agreed to answer questions.
For more than 30 minutes, Hunt denied ever having the photos, seeing them, or speaking with Nicole.
"Councilman Brooks is a very good friend of mine," Hunt said. "I haven't seen any nude photos. I'm being honest with you. I would tell you if I did."
But as the discussion continued, Hunt's story slowly changed. He admitted he had heard about the photos, but never seen them.
And when 41 Action News thought the interview was wrapping up, Hunt really opened up. The camera was still rolling as Hunt admitted that Nicole had contacted him and sent him the photos. However, he argued that Nicole wanted to set Brooks up, but he would not help her.
"That (expletive) did not get paid the way she wanted to," Hunt said. "I told her how I felt about it. When she reached out to me, I said, ‘What have you got? Give me all you got.' And she sent me all this (expletive). I told Brooks, ‘This is what this (expletive) is trying to do."
When asked if Hunt showed the photos to Brooks, Hunt replied, "Sure did. You (expletive) right I did. But you'll never see me say that."
Why is woman sharing story?
From her home out of state, Nicole said she did not learn about the controversy until late spring, when a friend directed her attention to the 41 Action News coverage.
One thing immediately jumped out at her: the dollar amount. Nicole said there is no doubt in her mind that Brooks requested the money because of the photos. She said she'd heard the $15,000 figure before.
Nicole acknowledged the "blackmail" text makes it sound like she was involved in something to pressure the councilman.
But she insists she had developed feelings for Brooks, and adds that her story has not changed from the beginning.
When asked why she is telling the story, Nicole said her family members in Kansas City work hard to pay taxes every year.
"(Brooks) used taxpayer money. He didn't even use his own. Wrong is wrong," Nicole said.
That's why Nicole said she shared the photos and text from Brooks with the FBI.
41 Action News contacted the FBI office in Kansas City to inquire about the allegations. A spokeswoman would neither confirm nor deny whether the agency is investigating the situation.
Former FBI agent Michael Tabman said the details involved in the story are very suspicious. Regardless of whether there is enough to build a case, Tabman said the mistake is not one a public official should make.
"If you're in a position of trust or a high-profile position, you do not send out compromising pictures of yourself," said Tabman. "You have to believe or understand it's going to be used against you. So even though we may look at this as an aberration or sophomoric behavior, the fact of the matter it shows poor discretion. And I wouldn't want my leaders showing that kind of outright poor discretion in their duties."