Since the announcement of their recent engagement I had wondered how Washington, DC School Superintendent Michelle Rhee hooked up with former NBA star Kevin Johnson, now I know:
When Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, was under investigation last year for alleged financial misdeeds and inappropriate behavior with female students, he had an important ally behind the scenes.
Michelle Rhee, the nationally known education reformer who is now head of the Washington, D.C., public schools, had several conversations with a federal inspector general in which she made the case for Johnson and the school he ran in Sacramento, according to the inspector general. Rhee, who had served on the board of the school and is now engaged to marry Johnson, said he was “a good guy.”
Rhee’s position had little effect on the inspector general, Gerald Walpin, who filed a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney on Johnson, a self-described friend and supporter of President Obama. But both the Sacramento police and federal attorneys declined to pursue charges. Walpin, who protested the prosecutors’ handling of the case, was ultimately fired by the Obama White House in June. [LA Times]
Rhee sat on the board of Johnson’s charter school in Sacramento, St. Hope and has accompanied Johnson on a number of other official trips. You can read more about Michelle Rhee in my prior profile of her here.
Anyway here is the corruption that the inspector general Gerald Walpin uncovered at St. Hope that was going on under Rhee’s nose:
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. [Washington Examiner]
The corruption is bad enough, but here is what is really scandalous:
The final four pages of the criminal referral discussed three instances of alleged inappropriate actions by Johnson involving a minor, who had reported she was fondled, and two young volunteers, who reported that Johnson went to their apartment and climbed into bed with one of them. The criminal referral notes that the two educators who reported the allegations left the charter school upset with the way the complaints had been handled.
From the report here is what the women said Johnson did:
G. Improper Sexual Physical Conduct
Our investigation disclosed evidence of sexual misconduct towards young female Members by Mr. Johnson. One Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 19 hereto), reported that, in the February/March 2007 time frame, she was entering grades into the SAC High database system per Mr. Johnson’s instructions at the St. HOPE office at night, purportedly as part of her AmeriCorps service. [REDACTED] contacted Mr. Johnson to inform him that she had completed the grades and wanted him to review them. About 11:00 pm, Mr. Johnson arrived at St. HOPE and instructed [REDACTED] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [REDACTED] apartment, which is managed by St. HOPE Development and houses its AmeriCorps Members, purportedly so that they could review the students’ grades. While in [REDACTED], in which another AmeriCorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr, Johnson laid down on [REDACTED's] bed, [REDACTED] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson “layed 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, [REDACTED], 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. [REDACTED] 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 [REDACTED] sought to take a blanket to sleep elsewhere did Mr. Johnson exit to the living room of the apartment. [REDACTED] 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.
After, as [REDACTED] put it, she “got the courage to tell… my supervisors,” she reported the incident, which, she was informed, was communicated to St. HOPE Academy’s Human Resources Department and the Chief Financial Officer. The night after [REDACTED] made her report, Mr. Johnson approached her and apologized. Subsequently, Kevin Hiestand, Johnson’s personal attorney, met with [REDACTED], described himself only “as a friend of Johnson,” and “basically asked me to keep quiet.” Also, about one week after this incident, when [REDACTED] 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.” As [REDACTED] related that conversation, Mr. Johnson “said all he needed was my savings account number,” he would make the deposit and “no one needed to know about it.” [REDACTED] did not accept this offer by giving Mr. Johnson her account number.
Another former Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 20 hereto), reported that, while attending a St. HOPE sponsored trip to Harlem, NY, from June 26 to July 16, 2006, Mr. Johnson, on three occasions, “brushed [her] leg with his hand,” including once “flip[ingj up the edge of her skirt. Other times, she stated, Mr. Johnson kissed her cheek, brushed up against her as he walked past, and massaged her shoulders. ([REDACTED] reported another incident that occurred in Sacramento, CA, in which Mr. Johnson touched [REDACTED's] inner thigh with his hand while enroute to a restaurant. [REDACTED] 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.
In addition, former SAC High teacher Mr. Erik Jones (Ex. 12 hereto) reported that a former AmeriCorps Member, [REDACTED], reported to him, sometime in 2007, that, while at SAC High, Mr. Johnson had inappropriately touched her. Mr. Jones stated that [REDACTED] had reported that Mr. Johnson started massaging her shoulders and then reached over and touched her breasts. (Attempts to interview [REDACTED] have been so far unsuccessful.) Mr. Jones related that, after he reported this incident to St. HOPE Academy officials, he was contacted by Mr. Hiestand, Mr. Johnson’s attorney, but who identified himself solely as St. HOPE’S counsel, and stated he was conducting an internal investigation. Mr. Hiestand told Mr. Jones that [REDACTED's] “story” was different from Mr, Jones’ and told Mr. Jones to change his “story” and then go back to work. Mr. Jones, realizing what he was being asked to do, elected to resign as a teacher and left SAC High. [Washington City Paper]
Rhee’s involvement with Johnson’s legal problems only became known after Republican lawmakers demanded an investigation into Walpin’s firing, which appears to be politically motivated because he had tried to stop Johnson from receiving federal stimilus money due to the corruption surrounding his AmeriCorps money:
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. [Washington Examiner]
Her is Rhee’s part of the cover up:
Rhee’s involvement in the probe stems from the statements of Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, a former St. Hope staff member, to federal investigators. According to an interview report, Wong-Hernandez told an investigator that Rhee was well known as someone who filled several roles with Johnson’s St. Hope organization and would use Johnson’s office when she was in town. Wong-Hernandez said that Rhee ‘played the role as “Damage Control”. When there was a problem at St. HOPE, Ms. Rhee was there the next day taking care of the problem.’
When the sexual misconduct allegations were raised, Rhee contacted Wong-Hernandez to figure out what had happened, telling her “she was making this her number one priority and she would take care of the situation.” Subsequently, Wong-Hernandez found out that Johnson’s lawyer had contacted the accuser, after which the accuser dropped the complaint.
Disgusted with how the incident had been handled, Wong-Hernandez quit St. Hope, and it was Rhee who conducted the exit interview. She told Rhee the reason she was leaving was the way St. Hope had handled the sexual misconduct allegation. According to the interview report, “Ms, Wong-Hernandez also informed Ms. Rhee that she didn’t trust the management at St. HOPE. Ms. Rhee documented the interview in her daily planner and responded to Ms. Wong-Hernandez by thanking her for bringing it to her attention how disorganized the program had become. Ms. Rhee didn’t try to talk Ms. Wong-Hernandez into staying.”
The L.A. Times further reports that Rhee spoke directly to Walpin, having discussions “in which she made the case for Johnson and the school he ran in Sacramento” and described Johnson as “a good guy.” [Washington City Paper]
Not the most blatant cover up attempt, but still shady. This inicident really takes a hit at Rhee’s creditability. If she couldn’t ensure AmeriCorps money wasn’t being fraudently spent and workers weren’t being sexually harassed at St. Hope what creditability should people have in her ability to reform the DC schools?
Here opponents already smell blood in the water.