JUNE 18, 2009
A mayor’s charity exposed for fraud by a fired inspector general is being investigated by the FBI for obstructing an investigation into its suspicious spending of federal funds.
The charity’s founder, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, illegally used nearly $1 million in federal funds to pay volunteers for political activities, run personal errands and even wash his car. After acknowledging that “there may have been administrative errors,” the mayor reached a settlement with federal prosecutors to repay more than $400,000 with no further penalties.
The government agency watchdog (Gerald Walpin) that investigates taxpayer-financed community service groups was the first to discover the fraud at Johnson’s nonprofit. But the mayor is a close political ally of Barack Obama’s so the president abruptly fired Walpin this week, violating a law that safeguards the independence of federal watchdogs.
Now a Sacramento newspaper reports that the FBI is investigating claims from the nonprofit’s (St. HOPE) executive director that a high-ranking official obstructed a federal inquiry by deleting Johnson’s electronic mails during the investigation. In a resignation letter published by the paper, the executive director says that a board member accessed St. HOPE’s e-mail system and deleted some of Johnson’s e-mails.
"We had to pay thousands of dollars to recover the information deleted from our e-mail system as a result of this highly inappropriate and potentially unlawful incursion into our e-mail system," the former director’s letter says. "We are still unsure whether all of the deleted information has been recovered."
St. HOPE is one of many local charities nationwide that annually gets thousands of dollars in federal grants from the government’s so-called national service programs. Among them is AmeriCorps, which annually distributes millions of federal dollars to local groups to conquer everything from illiteracy to affordable housing and the environment.
Founded in 1989, Johnson’s St. HOPE claims to help poor inner-city youth access educational opportunities, leadership training, character development and spiritual growth. The taxpayer-funded group has been rocked by scandal and turmoil however, with the resignations of key board members, an absent chief financial officer and the misuse of federal funds. A recent newspaper editorial said the group is in utter disarray.
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