KXJZ file photo/Ben Adler
The federal government says it’s found evidence that suggests Sacramento mayoral candidate Kevin Johnson and one of the St. HOPE non-profits he founded severely misused federal funds.
The feds say AmeriCorps members working for the St. HOPE Academy ran personal errands for Johnson, engaged in political activities and more.
The Inspector General’s office of the agency that oversees the AmeriCorps program has been investigating Johnson and St. HOPE since the spring. Until now, it wouldn’t even acknowledge the probe’s existence – let alone discuss its findings. But on Thursday, 40 days before Johnson faces Sacramento mayor Heather Fargo in the November 4th election, it basically dumped all its allegations on the table.
They include misusing AmeriCorps members to personally benefit Johnson, like driving him around, washing his car and running his errands; and using them for political activities and to recruit students for St. HOPE’s charter schools.
Johnson campaign manager Steve Maviglio:
Maviglio: “There’s been total cooperation from Day One with the federal authorities on this. They are allegations. We still live in a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty. We dispute the allegations; we’ll fight the allegations. They’re titillating; unfortunately, they’re not true.”
St. HOPE CEO Rick Maya declined comment on the allegations, since the investigation’s ongoing. But he says St. HOPE’s charter schools in Sacramento and New York City and its redevelopment work in Oak Park won’t be affected.
Maya: “These are four separate non-profits – each of which are governed by a separate Board of Directors – so the impact to one organization will not have an impact on another.”
So why did the AmeriCorps Inspector General’s office release these allegations now? The investigation is currently in the hands of the Justice Department, and neither Johnson nor St. HOPE has been charged with any wrongdoing. Local political consultant Doug Elmets says even though inspectors general often say they’re above politics, they play the game just like the rest of the government.
Elmets: “They obviously want to be able to secure some type of conviction or make a statement, and the most convenient time to make a statement – the most convenient time to indicate their relevance – is in the midst of a political fight. Right before an election, I’m not the least bit surprised to see that they’ve done this.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office in Sacramento will decide whether to file civil or criminal charges against Johnson or St. HOPE, or do nothing at all. It’s unclear whether that decision will be made before or after Election Day.