Story reported here: http://www.presstelegram.com/news/ci_23005608/long-beach-school-district-suing-accuser-brian-banks
LONG BEACH -- The Long Beach Unified School District is attempting to recoup what it can from a settlement it paid to a woman in the wake of a false rape accusation she made against a promising football star, Brian Banks, in 2002.
"It is important to convey that the school board isn't going to sit idly by if someone tries to defraud it of taxpayer resources," said district spokesman Chris Etfychiou.
However, lawyers from the school district have apparently been unable to locate Wanetta Gibson, who in 2007 was awarded the settlement after she claimed lax security and an unsafe environment led to her being raped by fellow student Banks, then a star football player at Poly High School.
Gibson later recanted the rape claim on tape, paving the way for Banks' exoneration of the charge - however he had already served more than five years in prison.
That recantation also paved the way for the school district to seek recompense. The district has retained the law firm McCune and Harber and has alleged in a civil suit Gibson committed contractual fraud.
It is unclear how much the school district is seeking. Multiple sources reported the district paid Gibson $1.5 million.
Eftychiou said recently that, "The school district's settlement agreement in this case is confidential, but we can confirm that the amount the media reported was grossly exaggerated. The school district did not pay Gibson $1.5 million. "
The Press-Telegram reported initially that Gibson received $750,000 from a $1.5 million overall settlement.
When Banks was exonerated in May 2012, the school district refused comment on whether it would pursue Gibson for damages.
The district has since filed a complaint in Long Beach Superior Court and a summons against Gibson. In January, when Gibson could not be found, an order for publication was granted, meaning Gibson could be served via a public, published announcement.
On Wednesday, the sides have a scheduled case management conference, at which the process could begin to enter a default decision in favor of the district.
Whether the school district can recoup any money is another question altogether.
Legal experts differ on whether the school district would win a judgment from Gibson if she had adequate representation. The statute for limitations on fraud is three years from when it is discovered; it is unclear whether the clock should begin when Gibson recanted on tape, or whether it could have been discovered earlier with reasonable diligence.
Another possible wrinkle is that Gibson was a juvenile when she first accused Banks.
"It would almost seem there was original lack of investigation by everyone," said Bill Shibley, a Long Beach attorney.
Court records show Gibson has had a tumultuous life since she won the settlement, with a number of claims lodged by and against her in civil litigation, including temporary restraining orders and domestic violence charges.
According to news reports, Gibson and her children have received public assistance and she has been sued by the county for child support.
Banks' lawyer, Justin Brooks of the California Innocence Project, which helped clear Banks, said Gibson later tried at times to take back her recantation after her initial admission.
It was Gibson who started the whole process that led to Banks' redemption and her current legal entanglement.
Several years after Banks' release from prison, Gibson sent him a "friend" request on Facebook and seeking to "let bygones be bygones. "
Private investigator Freddie Parish, whose son played football with Banks at Poly, was able to elicit the recantation on audio and videotape from Gibson, who was unavailable for comment.
In the tape, that has been widely circulated since Banks was exonerated in May 2012, Gibson gives one-word "No" answers when Parish asks her if she was raped or kidnapped.
In a separately taped interview, Gibson said she was hesitant to help Banks when he asked for her help.
"I will go through with helping you, but all that money they gave us, I mean, gave me, I don't want to have to pay it back, all of it, because that would take a long time," Gibson said.
Brooks called the videotape "a slam dunk" and the rape conviction was overturned on May 24.
Banks recently signed a contract to play professional football for the Atlanta Falcons.