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NAACP: Don Sterling must pay a price
03:28 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

NEW: Former tenant of Sterling's likens him to "a plantation owner"

Publication: Sterling on his purported girlfriend: "I wish I had just paid her off"

The woman claims she was merely a platonic friend of Sterling's, attorney says

L.A. NAACP leader resigns due to "negative exposure" over plan to honor Sterling

Los Angeles CNN  — 

The Donald Sterling scandal has claimed collateral damage: the president of the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter.

Leon Jenkins resigned Thursday, after the civil rights group came under fire for its plans to present a lifetime achievement award to the Los Angeles Clippers owner.

Meanwhile on Friday, Sterling’s purported girlfriend said through her attorney she was merely a platonic friend, with no sexual relationship with the NBA team owner.

Sterling is accused of making racist comments against African-Americans in an audio recording that surfaced last weekend that purportedly depict an argument between Sterling and V. Stiviano.

On Friday, Sterling was quoted on as saying “I wish I had just paid her off” in reference to Stiviano. The site, which specified that Sterling was referring to Stiviano in a discussion with one of its writers, didn’t state when the remark was made.

Sterling isn’t the only one reeling in the controversy.

The uproar also struck one of the nation’s leading civil rights groups, the NAACP, whose Los Angeles chapter rescinded Monday its offer to give Sterling a lifetime achievement honor once Sterling’s racist remarks came to light.

But that reversal was apparently too late. The outcry was too much for the group.

“Please be advised that the legacy, history and reputation of the NAACP is more important to me than the presidency,” Jenkins said, in announcing his resignation.

He said he was stepping down to separate the organization from the “negative exposure I have caused.”

Group’s highest honor

The lifetime achievement award is the NAACP’s highest honor.

The L.A. chapter presented Sterling with the award in 2009, and was planning to do so again this month. Sterling had donated a substantial amount of money to the chapter in the last few years. Some reports put it around $45,000.

Earlier this week, the NBA’s commissioner came down hard on Sterling, ordering him out of his team’s business and pushing to force him to sell over the remarks that caused a firestorm since becoming public last weekend.

The inflammatory sentiments came packaged in a 10-minute recording that TMZ said occurred during an April 9 conversation between Sterling and girlfriend Stiviano.

On the recording, a man and woman argue about photos posted to Instagram in which she appears with African-Americans. The man says he doesn’t want the woman bringing any black people to games with her.

The sports website Deadspin posted five additional minutes of what it said was part of the same audio recording.

Giving away integrity’

The NAACP and Sterling weren’t strangers, and the group had honored Donald Sterling before, an analyst said.

“The first time Sterling was awarded a lifetime achievement award by the group was in the midst of a lawsuit for housing discrimination based upon race,” said LZ Granderson, a CNN contributor and lecturer at Northwestern University.

“To decide to honor him with the award a second time, after he had paid millions to settle multiple discrimination suits … is not selling out. Selling out makes financial sense. No, considering what $45,000 means to a man of Sterling’s wealth, honoring him with awards is just giving integrity away.”

The billionaire real estate mogul has found himself in hot water in the past, denying in court accusations of discrimination tied to the NBA team and to property he owns.

A ‘social price’ to pay

Soon after the scandal broke, Jenkins didn’t seem inclined to cut ties with Sterling.

“At some point when there has been proof, I think that would be a legitimate time for the NAACP to sit down with Sterling and try to work out how and why he did what he did and what is he going to do in the future,” he said.

“God teaches us to forgive. And the way I look at it, after a sustained period of just proof to the African-American community that those words don’t really reflect his heart, I think there’s room for forgiveness.”

By Monday, Jenkins had changed course.

“The revelation that Mr. Sterling may have made comments in a phone conversation that were reminiscent of an ugly time period in American history that contained elements of segregation and racial discrimination demands that the Los Angles NAACP intention to honor Mr. Sterling for his lifetime body of work must be withdrawn, and his donation to the Los Angeles NAACP returned,” the group said Monday when it withdrew its invitation.

“There is a personal, economic and social price that Mr. Sterling must pay for his attempt to turn the clock back on race relations.”

‘Girlfriend’ says she was just a pal

On Friday, Stiviano’s lawyer said his client wasn’t Sterling’s girlfriend.

Rather, Stiviano was a platonic friend, said attorney Mac E. Nehoray.

“My client was not Donald Sterling’s mistress or girlfriend. We have proof that there was no sexual relationship,” Nehoray said. “They were more like friends. Platonic.”

When asked why gave Sterling her such lavish gifts as expensive cars, the attorney said: “Because he cares about her.”

Nehoray also stated that Stiviano didn’t distribute the recorded conservation.

“She did not leak the recordings,” the attorney said. “We are narrowing down who might have leaked the tapes, but we do not want to divulge at this point.”

Stiviano doesn’t have a book deal connected to the Sterling controversy, Nehoray said.

“There is no book deal. She’s been writing a book, but not about Sterling. It’s about her life,” Nehoray said.

Stiviano used to work in a crime victims unit in a district attorney’s office, Nehoray added.

“When the truth comes out, whoever has been calling her ‘gold digger’ and ‘con artist’ will have to retract that – absolutely false,” Nehoray said.

In March, Sterling’s wife sued Stiviano, accusing her having an affair with the billionaire team owner.

In the lawsuit, Rochelle Sterling accuses Stiviano of targeting extremely wealthy older men. The suit claims that Donald Sterling used the couple’s money to buy Stiviano a Ferrari, two Bentleys and a Range Rover.

Stiviano also took over a $1.8 million duplex through fraud and received about $250,000 in cash from Sterling, the court document claims.

Stiviano fought back, saying in another court document that there was nothing wrong with Donald Sterling giving her gifts. She also said she never took advantage of the Clippers owner, who made much of his fortune in real estate.

Sterling no stranger to lawsuits

This isn’t the first time the Sterlings have been involved in a lawsuit.

Elgin Baylor, who was executive vice president and general manager of the Clippers from 1986 to 2008, filed a lawsuit alleging wrongful termination against Sterling in 2009, saying that the team’s owner underpaid him and treated him “as a token because of his race.”

Sterling denied those accusations and said the team acted within its rights and “for good cause and not for any improper reason.”

Before the case went to trial, Baylor dropped the racial discrimination claim but maintained accusations of age discrimination. A jury sided with Sterling in 2011.

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit in 2006 accusing Sterling’s rental company of refusing to lease Beverly Hills apartments to African-Americans, refusing to rent to non-Koreans in the Koreatown section of Los Angeles County and turning away families with children from its properties.

That case was settled in 2009, with Sterling agreeing to pay nearly $3 million but continuing to deny the accusations.

Then there was a 2003 lawsuit in which the nonprofit Housing Rights Center and a group of tenants who lived in Sterling’s properties accused him of “numerous discriminatory statements and housing practices,” according to court documents.

Among other claims, his accusers said Sterling told building staff that he did not like Hispanic or African-American tenants and that he preferred Korean-American tenants and made “disparaging comments” about African-American and Hispanic tenants.

Sterling, according to court documents, “vehemently denied” the allegations and accused the plaintiffs of “being unreliable tenants and for being driven by hidden agendas.”

The case was dismissed in 2005 after a settlement was reached. Details of the deal were not disclosed.

One of his former tenants, Darryl Williams, videotaped Sterling’s wife going door-to-door at the building.

Over a decade later, Williams says he’s still mystified about what happened and about Sterling himself.

“We rent his buildings, support his basketball team, play on his teams,” said Williams, who is African-American. “But he’s oblivious to that. As far as he’s concerned, he’s like a plantation owner.”

CNN’s Kyung Lah, Dave Alsup, Paul Vercammen and Greg Botelho contributed to this report