The Spectacle Blog

IG-Gate: ‘Hush Money’ Charge in Sacramento Mayor’s Sex Scandal Was Part of Probe

By on 11.23.09 | 7:31PM

Sexual abuse accusations by St. HOPE Academy students against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson were apparently covered up, possibly with "hush money," according to a 61-page report issued by congressional investigators.

Failure of school officials to report sexual abuse of minors violates California state law, investigative staff of Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) noted in their report on the June firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin.

The allegations investigated by Walpin's office were "very serious," Grassley said in a statement, saying that evidence indicates a political motive for the IG's firing. "It seems a lot of people might have been interested in protecting the AmeriCorps program and the Mayor of Sacramento from an IG who was discovering some unpleasant facts."

Byron York of the Washington Examiner reported today that Obama administration officials tried to mislead the public about the reasons for the firing of Walpin. The Grassley-Issa report details how Walpin's IG staffers investigated charges that Johnson's lawyer and officials of the federally-funded St. HOPE program suppressed sexual-misconduct charges against the former NBA star who was elected mayor of California's capital city last year.

Walpin pressed for criminal prosecution of Johnson, an Obama supporter. Instead, a deal that allowed the mayor to avoid prosecution and repay federal grant money was approved by Alan Solomont, a major Democratic fundraiser who is chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the federal agency that oversees the AmeriCorps volunteer program.

The Grassley-Issa report says that agents of the inspector's general office who investigated the St. HOPE sex-abuse charges "immediately recognized what appeared to be improper handling of this allegation . . . and unethical conduct by Mr. Johnson's attorney," Kevin Hiestand, who was also the mayor's business partner. The report also implicates D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee who one witness said acted as "fixer" for the St. HOPE program. From the Grassley-Issa report (PDF):

In response to allegations first reported by CNCS and the California State Commission, CNCS Inspector General Gerald Walpin deployed Agents Jeffrey Morales and Wendy Wingers to Sacramento to investigate the use of federal dollars in contravention of St. HOPE's funding agreement. The alleged misconduct included claims that AmeriCorps tutors assigned to St. HOPE were put to work washing Johnson's car, running personal errands, and engaging in partisan political activities. It was also alleged that St. HOPE converted its own employees to AmeriCorps members in order to use grant funds to pay them.
While in Sacramento, Agents Wingers and Morales became aware of allegations of inappropriate contact between Johnson and three female St. HOPE students. Mr. Johnson’s attorney, Kevin Hiestand, approached at least one of the students describing himself only as "a friend of Johnson's," and "basically asked me to keep quiet."
According to her interview with OIG investigators, about one week later, Kevin Johnson offered her $1,000 a month until the end of the program, which she refused to accept. Moreover, the OIG uncovered evidence of two other female St. HOPE students reporting Johnson for inappropriate sexual conduct towards them. . . .
Walpin included details about these allegations in his criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney's office because they, "seriously impact … both the security of young [AmeriCorps] Members placed in the care of grantees and . . . the ability of AmeriCorps to continue to attract volunteers." The facts outlined in the referral give rise to reasonable suspicions about potential hush money payments and witness tampering at a federally funded entity. . . .
The OIG agents were alerted by a story in the Sacramento Bee describing an apparent violation of California state law. California state law classifies teachers and administrators as "mandated reporters," requiring them to report suspected child abuse to authorities. The Bee reported that contrary to California law, Johnson's lawyer and confidant, Kevin Hiestand, told school officials not to report the incidents because he was conducting his own internal investigation.
Hiestand conducted his investigation of the allegations under the guise of serving as the school's Title IX officer. . . . Hiestand interviewed the victims and witnesses, including a teacher who had heard of the allegations. According to the teacher, "Hiestand told me he had met with [one of the victims] and that she had told a different story and that I should change my story to fit the one they had been told." Erik Jones, the St. HOPE teacher who eventually reported one of the victim's allegations to the police, resigned in protest over the way the matter was handled by the school. In his resignation letter, Jones wrote "St. HOPE sought to intimidate the student through an illegal interrogation and even had the audacity to ask me to change my story." Another St. HOPE official, Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, also left St. HOPE because of the way the allegations were handled.
Michelle Rhee, who is currently Chancellor of the District of Columbia Schools, was a St. HOPE board member at the time. According to Wong-Hernandez, Rhee learned of the allegations and played the role of a fixer, doing "damage control." . . . (Emphasis added.)

There is much, much more in the Grassley-Issa report. And the firing of Walpin is just one aspect of the larger scandal known as IG-Gate. For background, see my article "The War on Watchdogs" from the September issue of The American Spectator.

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