SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A nonprofit run by mayoral candidate and former Suns star Kevin Johnson used AmeriCorps grants to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car, federal investigators say.
The findings from an agency that oversees the grants were sent to federal prosecutors and listed in a letter to Johnson dated Wednesday that also says he will be prohibited from receiving federal money while the investigation is under way. The Associated Press obtained a copy of the letter Friday.
Johnson's campaign said he will appeal the decision.
Johnson's nonprofit, St. HOPE, has received money through AmeriCorps, which provides college grants to people who volunteer for certain community service programs. He handed over management responsibilities for St. HOPE this year so he could focus on his campaign to unseat Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo.
Investigators from the Corporation for National and Community Service say several jobs St. HOPE assigned to its volunteers fell outside the scope of the federal grants. They said those jobs included running errands for Johnson, washing his car, recruiting students to attend St. HOPE Academy, engaging in political activities related to a local school board race, traveling to New York to help promote an academy Johnson has opened in Harlem and performing cleaning duties.
"The evidence is adequate to suspect that you have committed irregularities which seriously reflect the propriety of further federal government dealings with you," William Anderson, who is in charge of suspensions for the corporation, wrote to Johnson.
The U.S. attorney's office in Sacramento said it had received a report from the corporation but would not discuss the case. Prosecutors will decide whether to file charges.
Bill Portanova, a former federal prosecutor who represents Johnson, said the allegations represented the opinion of one person and noted that the full report hasn't been vetted.
"We don't know what they're saying because we don't have it," Portanova said. "We do know, however, that volunteer organizations are staffed by people with good hearts and intentions. And, as a rule, are not accountants by trade."
Johnson's campaign issued a statement characterizing the problem as administrative errors.
The campaign also accused the corporation's investigation of being tainted. It cited 2005 news reports that its inspector general, Gerald Walpin, introduced Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney at a Washington luncheon as a head of state run by the "modern-day KKK ... the Kennedy-Kerry Klan." Johnson, a three-time all-star for the Phoenix Suns, is black.
The campaign suggested Walpin was using the case for publicity.
"We have said all along that there may have been administrative errors, much like the hundreds of other small nonprofits that have been investigated in the past," the campaign said. "We are confident that the U.S. Attorney will decide not to proceed when it conducts a nonpolitical review of the allegations."
According to Wednesday's letter, the corporation's investigation is ongoing, but officials declined to elaborate on when it would be complete or whether money would have to repaid.
Johnson, who retired from the NBA in 2000, bested Fargo 47 percent to 40 percent in the June primary, but the two face a runoff Nov. 4 because Johnson did not get more than 50 percent of the vote.
St. HOPE oversees two charter schools as well as a number of nonprofit endeavors in Sacramento, Johnson's hometown. Those include a development company and Hood Corps, an urban peace corps program at the center of the federal investigation.
Hood Corps received $807,000 in federal money between 2004 and 2007 but has received none since then.