Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson
Did the White House overlook allegations of sexual misconduct against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson prior to his election, saving the city millions of federal stimulus dollars?
Former female workers for AmeriCorps, a federal community service program, have accused Johnson of touching them inappropriately, according to a recently released report.
A 62-page report has been issued by two ranking Republican congressmen who are investigating President Obama’s firing of the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, Gerald Walpin, last summer. Walpin had been investigating suspected mishandling of federal funds by Johnson and his nonprofit, St. Hope Academy.
In August 2008, Walpin referred Johnson and Dana Gonzalez, executive director of St. Hope, to then–U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott for criminal and civil prosecution for “false and fraudulent conduct in connection with $845,018.75 in federal funds.”
According to Walpin’s referral, St. Hope used members of AmeriCorps for political campaigning to re-elect Board of Education incumbents, and the hours spent on those elections were improperly recorded as AmeriCorps service hours.
“The money was given to St. Hope to finance AmeriCorps members, who are basically volunteers that they call members, to do tutoring in schools among disadvantaged students. It’s a great program,” Walpin told Eric Hogue of Hogue News in July. “My investigation found they didn’t use the AmeriCorps members for tutoring; they used them to drive Mr. Johnson around, to wash his car, to do all sorts of janitorial and administrative work which the money wasn’t given to them for. Also, he took a good number of these members from Sacramento where they were supposed to be doing the service to New York in order to help him lobby to get a charter school in New York. The use of money was contrary to the purposes of the grant.”
According to the document from the Office of the Inspector General, volunteers were forced to participate in an unauthorized “boot camp,” and required to attend church services and perform clerical duties including making copies, answering phones and serving teacher assistants. It also states that they were expected to paint, clean and man the school uniform store – all activities for which the federal funds were not designated.
But the OIG referral also addressed alleged sexual misconduct toward three young female members by Johnson.
One AmeriCorps volunteer, whose name has been redacted in the OIG document, said she entered grades into the Sacramento High School database system per Johnson’s instructions at the St. Hope office in 2007. She said she contacted Johnson to review the grades.
The OIG report states:
About 11:00 p.m., Mr. Johnson arrived at St. Hope and instructed [her] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [her] apartment, which is managed by St. Hope Development and houses its AmeriCorps members, purportedly so that they could review the students’ grades. While in [her] apartment, in which another AmeriCorps member had a separate bedroom, Mr. Johnson laid down on [her] bed. [The woman] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson “layed [sic] down behind me, cupping his body around mine like the letter C. After about 2-3 minutes or so, I felt his hand on my left side where my hip bone is.”
The woman said when Johnson slipped his hand under her untucked shirt and grasped her hip, she immediately got up and left the room.
“When she returned, Mr. Johnson was still in her bed, but now apparently sleeping,” according to the OIG report. “Only after [the woman] sought to take a blanket to sleep elsewhere did Mr. Johnson exit to the living room of the apartment. [The woman] related that Mr. Johnson slept on the couch of her apartment living room that night and subsequently left the apartment at approximately 6 a.m. the next day.”
The woman said she reported the incident to St. Hope Academy’s Human Resources Department and the chief financial officer. However, she said the night after she made the report, Johnson approached her and apologized.
“Subsequently, Kevin Hiestand, Johnson’s personal attorney, met with [the woman], described himself only ‘as a friend of Johnson,’ and ‘basically asked me to keep quiet,'” according to the woman’s testimony in the OIG report. “Also, about one week after this incident, when [the woman] told Mr. Johnson she was going to quit because of financial and family reasons, Mr. Johnson ‘offered to give me $1,000 a month until the end of the program,’ stating that it would be confidential ‘between him and I.'”
The woman said Johnson told her “all he needed was my savings account number” and that he would make the deposit and “no one needed to know about it.”
According to the OIG documents, the woman refused and did not provide the account number.
Former Inspector General Gerald Walpin
The OIG report also details an account from a former AmeriCorps member who claimed Johnson offered to rub her feet, take her to dinner and pay her an extra $1,000 a month to remain in the program.
She said while attending a St. Hope–sponsored trip to Harlem, N.Y., from June 26 to July 16, 2006, Johnson on three occasions “brushed [her] leg with his hand,” including once “flip[ping] up the edge of” her skirt as he walked past and massaged her shoulders.
The same woman said another incident occurred in Sacramento, Calif., in which Johnson touched her thigh with his hand while they drove to a restaurant.
“[The woman] said she did not report the incidents to AmeriCorps officials at that time because she feared she would be terminated from the program and because Mr. Johnson was assisting her in obtaining acceptance into the United States Military Academy, where she subsequently enrolled,” the OIG report states.
Furthermore, former Sacramento High School teacher Erik Jones reported that a former AmeriCorps member told him in 2007 that Johnson had inappropriately touched her.
“Mr. Jones stated that [she] had reported that Mr. Johnson started massaging her shoulders and then reached over and touched her breasts,” the report states.
The OIG document notes that attempts to interview the woman about the alleged incident had been unsuccessful. However, Jones said after he reported the incident to St. Hope Academy officials, he was contacted by Johnson’s attorney, who told Jones the woman’s story was different from Jones’ account.
He then “told Mr. Jones to change his ‘story’ and then go back to work,” according to the OIG report. “Mr. Jones, realizing what he was being asked to do, elected to resign as a teacher and left Sac High.”
After listing the allegations of sexual misconduct, Walpin’s referral states, “We recognize that there may not be enough evidence at this time to support a charge against Mr. Johnson concerning these incidents of improper conduct. But there are sufficient reasons, we suggest, to use the grand jury for further digging.”
Walpin told Hogue News, “That was before the election. Nothing much happened after the election until the stimulus came out, and then there was this push to get rid of my requested suspension of Johnson for the wrongdoing.”
Johnson was elected mayor of Sacramento in November 2008. According to a report by Eric Hogue, more than $300 million in stimulus money was expected to arrive in Sacramento from Washington, D.C. But Walpin asked that the allegedly misappropriated $800,000 be repaid before Johnson and Sacramento would be cleared for the stimulus funding.
In a March 28 interview with KCRA-TV, a reporter discussed a possible delay on Sacramento’s stimulus funds with U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento.
“The legal process has to go on, and that will certainly go along and we can’t get involved in that. But I have been in conversation with officials at the White House and (Office of Management and Budget) and others to ensure that we don’t lose any money at all,” she said. “I’m committed to ensure that we’re going to be working with them. I am committed to ensure that all the money that we will be getting will not at all be encumbered. I am very much committed to that. Under any scenario, we are going to get the money.”
While she admitted calling the White House, Matsui did not indicate to whom she had spoken.
With little public notice, Obama suspended Walpin with pay on June 10, indicating that his termination would be effective in 30 days. The sexual misconduct allegations remained secret until the recent release of the OIG documents.
“[I]t is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general,” the president wrote when he dismissed Walpin. “That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
Acting Attorney General Lawrence Brown settled the St. Hope case on April 9, ordering the academy to pay $423,836.50. The civil settlement also called for Johnson to pay $72,836.50.
On May 6, Walpin said he disagreed with the settlement.
“The only circumstance that changed was the sudden media and political pressure to settle the matter monetarily and lift the suspension,” Walpin wrote. “These pressures had the desired effect.”
Now, the Nov. 20 report by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform suggests Walpin was fired due to the investigation involving Johnson and St. Hope and concludes that the White House “orchestrated an after-the-fact smear campaign to justify” Walpin’s termination.
The Washington Examiner has obtained documents and e-mails revealing a timeline of events that contradicts Obama administration claims that Walpin was dismissed after “extensive review” and a unanimous decision by the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service.
The documents show the White House’s public story was “cobbled together after Walpin was fired, not before.”
According to the report, the White House scrambled to keep its story straight after the controversy ignited. Ranit Schmelzer of the corporation’s press office sent e-mails to board members, guiding them on how they should respond if reporters contacted them seeking information about the firing.
He told the board, “Indicate that you support the president’s decision to remove IG Walpin. If asked why he was removed, indicate that the president lost confidence in Mr. Walpin.”
Schmelzer continued, “If the reporter continues to press, say that you can’t get into details on a personnel matter, but you understand there were some performance-based issues.”
Finally, he suggested the board avoid “getting into any specifics about IG Walpin’s performance-based issues. The WH has stayed away from this and has counseled us to do the same.”
According to the report, the White House did not solicit the members’ actual views on the issue until one day after they had been instructed to support the firing.
Still, many questions remain unanswered about who called for Walpin’s termination and why the White House abruptly fired him.
Walpin told Hogue News in July, “I’m not going to suggest there’s any criminal actions in the White House at all. I will say that accepting and following through on a political person’s request for action against an inspector general is a violation of the Inspector General Act … which protects inspectors general from any political pressure or firing based upon political pressure.”