HBO Explores Sexual Misconduct Allegations Against Mayor Kevin Johnson

by | March 24, 2016

By Ellen Garrison

The woman who accused Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson of molesting her two decades ago when she was a teenager in Phoenix appeared on camera to tell her story for the first time Tuesday night.

In an interview on HBO's "Real Sports with Bryant Gumbel," Mandi Koba said she has blamed herself for years for keeping silent. If she had spoken out, she said, she perhaps could have prevented other girls and women from being victimized. Koba accused Johnson of molesting her in 1996, when she was 16 and he was playing for the Phoenix Suns.

She said she trusted Johnson as an older mentor figure, and knew she stood little chance of prevailing against him in court. "Who were they going to believe, the 17-year old with anorexia and depression, or the celebrity favorite basketball player of Phoenix," she said in Tuesday's interview with reporter David Scott.

The HBO episode detailed five accusations from different women _ some of whom were underage at the time of their contact with Johnson. Two women who participated as teenagers in Johnson's Hood Corps urban service program appeared on the show, saying he had touched them both inappropriately when they were 18.

Erik Jones, a former teacher at Sacramento High School, which is run by the St. HOPE organization founded by Johnson, said he left the school after reporting that Johnson had touched the breasts of a 17-year-old student. That student recanted after she was summoned to a meeting with Johnson's personal attorney, who also represented the school.

"Real Sports" is a monthly series reporting in-depth on famous athletes or problems affecting sports.

The Sacramento Bee has reported extensively over the years on Koba's allegations. She has repeatedly declined comment to The Bee, including on Monday. But last year she told her story to the sports website Deadspin. On Tuesday, she repeated the allegations she had made to the Phoenix police as a teenager: That Johnson took her clothes off, fondled her and showered with her.

No charges were filed against Johnson, and he denied the allegations. In 1997, he and Koba signed a draft confidential settlement agreement worth $230,000. The agreement said Johnson continued to deny the allegations.

Koba said Tuesday she was so traumatized by the incidents that she stopped eating, and her weight dropped to 87 pounds.

Additional allegations of sexual misconduct have dogged Johnson for years, though he has never been charged with any crime, and his alleged victims have consistently declined to speak publicly. In the most recent case, a city employee filed a sexual harassment claim last year against the mayor. Ilee Muller, a former aide to City Manager John Shirey, had sought $200,000 in damages, but her claim was denied in May by a closed door vote of the City Council.

Muller's claim alleged that Johnson summoned her to his private library on City Hall's fifth floor on Dec. 26, 2013. Once there, according to the claim, the mayor gave Muller "an unwelcome and close hug, pressing his body against (her), then felt along her torso." Johnson then "pressed his body against hers and asked her if she 'felt it,'" then tried to kiss Muller, according to the claim.

The claim alleged that Johnson harassed Muller multiple times over a seven-month period.

Scott said on Tuesday's show that HBO had discovered that Johnson had paid Muller, but it cited no sources or evidence for such a payment.

Stories published in The Bee during Johnson's 2008 campaign for mayor detailed additional allegations against him, including the ones leveled by Jones regarding the 17-year-old student. At the time, Sacramento police investigated the claim and found it to be unsubstantiated, though reports showed that Johnson's personal attorney, Kevin Hiestand, questioned the girl before police were called in. During Johnson's 2008 campaign, Councilman Rob Fong and Mayor Heather Fargo questioned the thoroughness of the city police investigation.

The Sacramento County Sheriff's Department reviewed the case and agreed with the city police finding that no criminal case could be made.

In 2009, further allegations were uncovered during U.S. Inspector General Gerald Walpin's investigation of St. HOPE for misuse of federal funds. Walpin accused the organization of numerous violations and was subsequently fired by the White House for performance issues. A congressional report on his firing issued by two Republican congressmen included allegations against Johnson from 2007.

A young woman, whose age and name were not revealed, alleged that Johnson came to her apartment late one night, laid behind her while she sat on her bed and put his hand under her shirt. The woman was serving in the Hood Corps program at the time, which Johnson oversaw as part of his St. HOPE organization.

She said she reported the incident to her superiors and was later asked to keep quiet by Hiestand. She said Johnson offered to pay her $1,000 a month until the end of the program, but she declined.

That woman, Xian Thao, came forward publicly with her accusations on Tuesday's show, joined by her former roommate, Amanda Thomas, who said Johnson touched her inappropriately as well on two occasions, once at an event and another time in a car.

"I'd gotten this new skirt, like collegiate looking skirt, and I remember sitting next to him, and he just flipped the edge of the skirt up and he put his hand on my thigh," she said.

She said that Johnson had awarded her a scholarship and was using his connections to help her get into colleges. "We were so terrified of disappointing Mr. Johnson that we were just little lambs," she added.

The mayor did not appear on the program. Johnson's Press Secretary Ben Sosenko said Johnson has already addressed these accusations eight years ago with "Real Sports" James Brown.

"It's unfortunate that this previously addressed issue has once again been rehashed instead of using the opportunity to tell the ongoing story of a community renaissance led by residents working closely with one of their own, a professional athlete turned Mayor, to make Sacramento a better place," Sosenko said in a statement Tuesday.

Johnson announced in October that he would not seek a third term as Sacramento mayor. He has said allegations of sexual misconduct did not play a role in his decision.

The final guest on Tuesday night's show was Kim Curry-Evans, a former Johnson aide who worked for him in both Phoenix and Sacramento. She said she believed Johnson for years but eventually concluded that the allegations against him were true. She resigned from the art gallery run by St. HOPE in 2009. At the time, she declined to comment to The Bee on her departure, beyond citing Johnson's personal actions as the reason for her leaving.

"I'm sorry for not believing your story when it happened in Phoenix," Curry-Evans said to Koba Tuesday. "I'm sorry, because we should have believed you. I wish I had been there for Amanda. I wish I had been there for Xian.

(c)2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)