A Seattle nonprofit backed by billionaire Steve Ballmer has suspended its operations. The organization’s founder landed a new job with Ballmer’s Los Angeles Clippers while facing a sexual-assault complaint earlier this year.
Tavio Hobson had a Seattle youth-sports nonprofit that just kept growing, with money from billionaire Steve Ballmer and praise from NBA stars like Jamal Crawford.
Raising more than $1 million in revenue in 2013, the A PLUS Youth Program served dozens of local students and supported a staff that has included Hobson’s father and longtime friends.
That’s all changed in the past several days, as A PLUS abruptly suspended its operations and laid off employees. Grant Adolphson, chairman of the nonprofit’s board, told donors in an email that the board was “made aware of serious information” that impairs the nonprofit’s sustainability.
Others who worked with A PLUS have described delayed paychecks and lavish spending. Despite several requests, Adolphson declined to discuss reasons behind the shutdown. One serious issue related to A PLUS that has yet to be disclosed to supporters: A worker at the nonprofit accused Hobson earlier this year of rape and sought an order of protection.
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In granting it, a court commissioner said the woman was “credible in her account.”
Around that time she also reported the encounter to Seattle police. A month later, Hobson abruptly left the nonprofit he’d founded and built.
In March, with the protection order in effect and shortly before prosecutors declined to pursue the case, the Los Angeles Clippers hired Hobson, giving a new job to owner Ballmer’s old friend.
Ballmer and Hobson have a long history, detailed in a Seattle Times story last year about how Lakeside School pushed the limits of prep-sports rules in an effort to become an athletic powerhouse.
Lakeside, an elite private school where Ballmer’s kids have been part of the basketball program, hired Hobson in November 2008, a few years after he had led workouts with Ballmer’s oldest son. In 2009, Hobson created the A PLUS nonprofit, funded largely by Ballmer.
A PLUS was designed to identify talented players in the community and “groom them to go to Lakeside,” according to former NBA player Guy Williams, who has said he was involved in an early planning meeting for the nonprofit. Williams said the ultimate plan was to transform Lakeside into an athletic powerhouse similar to Detroit Country Day School — the school Ballmer attended in his youth.
An investigator with the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association ultimately determined that the nonprofit created an improper conflict because it operated offseason-basketball activities with Lakeside players. Hobson subsequently resigned from his Lakeside job.
Hobson has said the nonprofit wasn’t built for Lakeside, and in recent years it has served many dozens of kids, helping them with their academics. In the 2013 year, the program raised $1.2 million while paying out nearly $750,000 in employee compensation, according to the nonprofit’s tax filings.
The woman who accused Hobson of rape said he had recruited her to work at A PLUS a couple of years after they broke off their original dating relationship. In written accounts to court, both agree she emphasized last summer that they should maintain a professional relationship at work.
But text messages and her written account show Hobson pushed for more.
On Oct. 1, after meeting for drinks, Hobson texted that he could “come by and hold u.” The woman replied that she needed “to go a bit slower.” A week later, he texted, “How’s ur back? And ur womenly area?” After she replied that her areas were “good,” he sent graphic photos from their previous relationship.
She responded by again trying to keep him at bay. “I am looking for something more substantial … and I think u might be looking for just some fun. It’s all good tho … no harm no foul.”
A week later, in her written account obtained by The Seattle Times, the woman said Hobson was staying at her apartment when he forced himself on her. She said she used all of her arm strength to keep their bodies apart and explicitly told Hobson five times she didn’t want sex.
According to her account, he pushed her down on the bed in a painful way, and she went silent. “It was like I was dead as I didn’t move or make a sound,” she wrote. After she woke up, she found herself in pain.
In his written account, Hobson noted the two previously had an on-again, off-again relationship that included sex. He said he and the woman had consensual sex and that she never objected.
The woman maintained a cordial, friendly and warm relationship with her boss in the days after, text messages show. “The only way I knew to emotionally handle the situation was to act like everything was fine,” she said in her written account. “We had consensual sex once after that (I really didn’t want to, which he was aware of …).”
As she continued working at A PLUS, the encounter troubled her, she wrote. Later, during sexual-harassment training at work, she learned that problems with managers should go through the executive director, Hobson.
“I left the room to cry in the bathroom,” she later wrote.
After talking for the first time about the encounter with her therapist and later with a friend, she said she finally recognized that what had happened to her was rape.
She talked with a rape-victim advocate and a lawyer, then filed a police report in February.
Reached on her cellphone this past week, the woman declined to comment.
Seattle police referred the Hobson case to the prosecutor’s office, which declined the case on March 19. An attorney for Hobson noted the case was declined and that his client would not comment.
In early March, Hobson left A PLUS and began work at the Clippers. Although he is not listed on the Clippers’ official online club directory, he works as a “corporate-partnership manager” in the sponsorship department, said Seth Burton, a Clippers spokesman.
At first, Burton said he wasn’t aware of the protection order against Hobson. He later said he would not comment on whether anyone in the Clippers organization was aware of it before hiring Hobson.