In the days leading up to Donald Sterling’s lifetime ban from the NBA, one of the strongest advocates for disciplining the Clippers’ owner was former All-Star guard and current Sacramento, Calif., mayor Kevin Johnson.
“The players are waiting for the commissioner to act decisively,” Johnson said in late April, speaking on behalf of the players’ union. “They want the maximum of what the constitution and bylaws will allow and we’re trying to figure out what that is. They want a decision to be made quickly and decisively. If you don’t respect the players in this league, then the values that we all espouse are for naught. If what has been alleged and stated is authentic then there must be sanctions that make it clear that the NBA family will have zero tolerance for such conduct today, tomorrow or ever.”
Johnson got his wish when NBA commissioner Adam Silver banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million after Sterling admitted he made the racist comments in a taped conversation between himself and his former girlfriend.
But while Johnson may be viewed as a strong, moral voice in the Sterling saga, a Deadspin report published last week revisited dark chapters in the California politician’s past — including alleged sexual misconduct by Johnson when he was the president and CEO of St. HOPE Academy, a charter school organization he founded in Sacramento — and misuse of federal funds the school received.
The St. HOPE matter came less than a decade after Johnson, according to a joint U.S. Senate and House report, paid “$230,000 to resolve claims brought by a Phoenix teenager who alleged Johnson molested her.”
Arizona prosecutors never filed criminal charges against Johnson in that matter but an investigation into the ex-NBA guard’s tenure at St. HOPE ultimately led to an August 2008 referral to the U.S. Attorney’s office in the Eastern District of California by the Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) “for criminal and civil prosecution of Kevin Johnson” and another St. HOPE executive for misuse of federal funds.
“I will tell you that my staff, which had a totally nonpolitical agenda, looked into all the allegations,” says Gerald Walpin, the former Inspector General for the CNCS, whose office ultimately made the referral to the U.S. Attorney’s office to prosecute Johnson the same year the former hoops star ran for mayor of Sacramento. Walpin was fired by President Obama in the ensuing fallout. “I would not have referred it to the U.S. Attorney’s office unless there was evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. And there was no doubt that there was established documentary evidence of misuse of federal funds.”