If you haven't read this already it is a 'must read' Examiner Exclusive by Byron York with Bill Myers contributing to the report. It reads like an episode from Dominick Dunne's TV show Power, Privilege and Justice. It confirms my belief that no 'reign of terror' lasts forever. I'd be interested to hear how you think this drama will play out. The Wash. Post has not covered this story in their newspaper not surprisingly to most of us. The story is only featured in their online blog while all other major newspapers worth their salt across the US are featuring this story as a head liner. I have posted the Examiner story in its entirety as well as links (below) from an article on this same subject by David Lipscomb of The Washington Times newspaper, Mike Debonis of the Washington City Paper, The Hill News, The NY Times, Sacramento news, Sacramento Bee, SCUSD Observer and L.A. Times.
Wash. Times link
By: Byron York A congressional investigation of the volunteer organization AmeriCorps contains charges that D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee handled "damage control" after allegations of sexual misconduct against her now fiancee, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and a prominent ally of President Obama, The Washington Examiner learned Friday morning.
Chief Political Correspondent
November 20, 2009
The charges are contained in a report prepared by Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa, ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
The investigation began after the AmeriCorps inspector general, Gerald Walpin, received reports that Johnson had misused some of the $800,000 in federal AmeriCorps money provided to St. Hope, a non-profit school that Johnson headed for several years.
Walpin was looking into charges that AmeriCorps-paid volunteers ran personal errands for him, washed his car, and took part in political activities. In the course of investigating those allegations, the congressional report says, Walpin's investigators were told that Johnson had made inappropriate advances toward three young women involved in the St. Hope program -- and that Johnson offered at least one of those young women money to keep quiet.
Johnson's office did not respond to calls for comment Friday morning.
At the time, Rhee was on the board of St. Hope. A former St. Hope employee who reported one of the allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by Johnson told Walpin's investigators that Rhee "learned of the allegations and played the role of a fixer, doing 'damage control,'" the congressional report says.
The employee told investigators that Rhee told her that "she was making this her number one priority, and she would take care of the situation." A short time later, the employee learned that the girl who had complained about Johnson had received a visit from Johnson's personal attorney.
The congressional report quotes the girl as saying the attorney "basically asked me to keep quiet," and Johnson offered her $1,000 a month for the duration of her time with St. Hope. Once investigators learned about that, the report says, they had "reasonable suspicions about potential hush money payments and witness tampering at a federally funded entity."
Rhee did not respond to calls for comment Friday.
Walpin included the allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct, along with evidence of misuse of federal money, in a criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento. The acting U.S. Attorney, Lawrence Brown, reached a settlement with Johnson under which St. Hope was obligated to pay back some of the money, but took no action on the other matters.
The White House fired Walpin on June 10. The sexual misconduct allegations he was investigating have been secret until now.
A White House spokesman said he had not seen the report yet, and declined comment.
In the spring of 2008, Walpin's office received a tip that Johnson had misused AmeriCorps money. Walpin sent two investigators to Sacramento to check the story out. They discovered that money had in fact been misused, and also learned of the allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct by Johnson.
In August 2008, at the time Walpin referred the matter to the U.S. Attorney, he also presented the evidence of misuse of federal money to officials at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps. In September 2008, those officials barred Johnson from receiving any more federal money.
All this was happening as Johnson was running for mayor of Sacramento, a race he won in November 2008. Johnson's suspension from receiving federal money became a hot issue in early 2009 after Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus bill. Many people in Sacramento worried that the city would not be able to get its share of that money if the mayor was banned from receiving federal dollars.
Amid that atmosphere of anxiety, in April of this year, the U.S. Attorney's office announced a deal under which St. Hope would pay back about half of the money it received from AmeriCorps and, in return, Johnson would no longer be banned from receiving federal money. Brown released a statement saying the settlement "removes any cloud whether the City of Sacramento will be prevented from receiving much-needed federal stimulus funds."
The deal was made by Brown and top officials at the Corporation for National and Community Service -- Walpin was cut out of the process. He strongly disagreed with the arrangement, suspecting that it came about more for political reasons than prosecutorial ones. The new report takes his side, saying Brown's "motivation to reach a settlement was not to protect the financial interests of the United States, but rather to remove Johnson from the suspended parties list in order to ensure Sacramento's eligibility to receive stimulus funds." Neither Brown nor the U.S. Attorney's office cooperated with the Grassley/Issa investigation.
After the settlement, Walpin wanted to continue probing the St. Hope affair, particularly a new allegation that St. Hope employees might have destroyed evidence. Walpin made his case to the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service at a meeting on May 20. He also strongly criticized the board for making what he felt was a bad settlement and for failing to exercise sufficient oversight of the matter.
At one point in the meeting, which all sides describe as contentious, Walpin apparently became confused when asked a question. Accounts differ; some who were in the room said Walpin seemed disoriented and out of it, while others said he seemed to simply lose his place for a moment. Whatever the case, after the heated discussion of the St. Hope matter, Corporation board chairman Alan Solomont, a major Democratic donor and Obama supporter, took the unusual step of going to the White House to report the events of the just-concluded meeting and recommend that Walpin be fired.
After a cursory investigation, the White House Counsel's Office called Walpin on June 10 and told him that he had one hour to either resign or be fired. Walpin declined to resign and was fired. The firing was an apparent violation of a law requiring the president to give 30 days' notice to Congress before dismissing an inspector general. Only later did the White House inform Congress. When lawmakers asked for an explanation of Walpin's firing, the White House said he was dismissed because he had been "confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the board to question his capacity to serve."
The new report strongly suggests that Walpin was in fact fired because of the dispute over St. Hope and concludes that the White House "orchestrated an after-the-fact smear campaign to justify" Walpin's dismissal.
The report says the allegations of sexual misconduct and a cover-up "provide important context for Walpin's insistence that the St. Hope matter should not have been settled without further inquiry." In light of those allegations, the report says, complaints that Walpin was being too aggressive seem unfounded. "The content of the referral tends to undermine any notion that the [inspector general's] investigation was driven by inappropriate motives on the part of Walpin," the report says. "Rather, it appears to have been driven by non-political, career investigators simply following the facts."
There seems little doubt that Johnson's alleged conduct contributed to a sometimes troubled atmosphere at St. Hope. In the criminal referral, Walpin wrote that the allegations "seriously impact on both the security of young [volunteers] placed in the care of [St. Hope] and, if such incidents occur, the ability of AmeriCorps to continue to attract volunteers." The referral, which Grassley and Issa's investigators have released in its entirety along with the new report, contains the following description of one of the incidents, a description which uses the AmeriCorps terminology of referring to young volunteers as "Members."
About 11:00 p.m., Mr. Johnson arrived at St. Hope and instructed [the girl] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [the girl's] apartment, which is managed by St. Hope Development and houses its AmeriCorps Members, purportedly so that they could review the students' grades. While in [the girl's] apartment, in which another AmeriCorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr. Johnson laid down on [the girl's] bed. [The girl] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson "laid 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."
Further, although not detailed in her written statement, [the girl] during the interview demonstrated while explaining that Mr. Johnson's hand went under her untucked shirt and moved until his hand was on her hip. [The girl] immediately got up and stated she was done and left the room. When she returned, Mr. Johnson was still in her bed, but now apparently sleeping. Only after [the girl] sought to take a blanket to sleep elsewhere did Mr. Johnson exit to the living room of the apartment. [The girl] related that Mr. Johnson slept on the couch in her apartment living room that night and subsequently left the apartment at approximately 6 a.m. the next day.
Walpin is embroiled in a lawsuit against the Corporation for National and Community Service in which he is seeking to get his old job back. There have been arguments and counter-arguments filed in the case, but a final decision is likely many months away.
Examiner reporter Bill Myers contributed to this report
Posted by the Washington Teacher featuring Candi Peterson, blogger in residence, story courtesy of the Examiner.