Rep. Johnson faces new scrutiny over scholarship funds

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by CRAIG CIVALE

WFAA

Posted on October 12, 2010 at 9:57 PM

Updated Tuesday, Oct 12 at 10:26 PM

DALLAS — There are new accusations involving Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Dallas) and her handling of scholarship money that was supposed to go to needy students in her district.

It's a story you saw first Tuesday on News 8 at Five.

Questions are now being asked about whether Johnson used those scholarships to gain favor at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport, where she is part owner of some businesses.

The revelations may cost Don O'Bannon his job.

O'Bannon is in charge of making sure that small minority business owners are getting a fair shake at the 225 food and retail opportunities at the airport.

"He has the fate of a lot of these minority businesses in his hands," said D/FW Airport board member Betty Culbreath.

That is why airport officials are investigating why O'Bannon's family received a scholarship from Eddie Bernice Johnson, part-owner of two newspaper stands inside airport terminals.

According to Congressional Black Caucus records, O'Bannon's daughter, Danielle — a senior at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire — received a $1,000 award from Rep. Johnson in 2007.

"It gives me pause when any staff member — not just Mr. O'Bannon — would receive some benefit from any vendor that we do business with," Culbreath said. "It would certainly pose a conflict for me."

Culbreath calls the allegations unfortunate.

O'Bannon, who has been on leave since last week, had little to say when questioned by News 8.

"My job is at stake, my livelihood, so I prefer to talk about this after whatever they are going to do," he said.

Eddie Bernice Johnson had no comment on the new findings.

The congresswoman has been under fire in recent weeks for awarding 23 scholarships from the same Congressional Black Caucus fund to her own relatives who don't live in her district, and who could not receive the awards because of nepotism rules.

D/FW Airport has hired an independent law firm to investigate the incident. In a statement to News 8, Dallas Mayor Tom Leppert — also a DFW Board member —  has asked "to review D/FW's policies and ethics codes to ensure they are adequate, current, comprehensive, cover both board members and staff, and provide the proper control mechanisms."

E-mail ccivale@wfaa.com

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