Photos Above: Silverback looking wildebeest Wanetta Gibson, who admits falsely accusing Brian Banks of rape, won $1.5 miilion in damages. When he started parole after years in prison, he was unable to get work.
Photo Left: The evil Wanda Rhodes in a police mugshot going back to her lengthy rap sheet that includes assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, drug offenses and stalking.
LONG BEACH, Calif. — The teenager whose lies landed a budding football star in prison for rape was pushed along by a mother hell-bent on getting rich off a lawsuit settlement, The Daily has learned.
After Wanetta Gibson falsely accused her classmate, Brian Banks, of attacking her at their school, she and her mother, Wanda Rhodes, sued the Long Beach Unified School District for allowing the alleged crime to happen on campus.
Banks took a plea deal that put him behind bars for five years, the school district settled the lawsuit for $1.5 million and the women went on a wild spending spree with their share of the settlement — without showing an ounce of remorse. Last week, a judge exonerated Banks after Gibson finally recanted.
“The mom was buying cars, big screen TVs and all sorts of things,” a former neighbor said of Rhodes. “One time Wanetta came up here with a wad of cash — she had $10,000 in her hand.”
Gibson never told her neighbors where the money came from but stuck with her story that Banks had raped her.
“She showed up with a brand new Altima with some great rims,” said the neighbor, who asked not to be identified. “And she bought her mom a Suburban and a Dodge.”
Rhodes, now 52, was greedy and “the type of person where money was everything,” said another neighbor, named Terrell, who would not give his last name. “The mom was really controlling.”
Gibson maintained she was a virgin when Banks raped her in 2002, but those who knew her didn’t believe her claim.
“I knew her in high school and I knew Brian,” Terrell said. “She had a reputation.... And I know Brian, there’s no way he’s going to do something like that.”
Gibson has never married but has two children by different men, the neighbors said. Although now 26, she still lives with her mother, who has a stranglehold over her life.
“She’s just not ready to be a woman,” the former neighbor said. “I remember Wanetta had just turned 21 and her mother said, ‘You have a curfew, you have to be in the house at 10.’ And she obeyed.”
Both the neighbors and Banks’ attorney have no doubt Rhodes hatched the plot to falsely convict Banks and profit from it.
“She was put up to this by her mother; (Wanetta) was only a teenager at the time,” said attorney Alissa Bjerkhoel of the California Innocence Project.
The neighbor said, “Wanetta wasn’t bright enough to think that up.”
Despite the settlement, the pair continued to live in a squalid apartment complex in a neighborhood where bars on the windows and metal security doors are commonplace. Weeds substitute for front lawns.
Today, after frittering away their money, the women move from one place to another, always a step ahead of debt collectors slapping them with liens, public records show. Rhodes has a lengthy rap sheet, including assault with a deadly weapon, burglary, drug offenses and stalking.
Banks had his own money problems after winning parole in 2008. He couldn’t find work because he was a registered sex offender. To get by, he moved in with relatives.
Then in February 2011, as he was trying to rebuild what was left of his life, Banks heard from Gibson. She sent him a friend request on Facebook, asking him to “let bygones be bygones.”
Banks set up a sting operation and Gibson admitted to him on videotape that she lied about the rape. The California Innocence Project agreed to take on his case and met with Los Angeles prosecutors, who were eager to undo any wrongdoing.
“They appointed an investigator to find Wanetta, it was a very collaborative effort to find the truth,” Bjerkhoel said. “We had our own investigator as well.”
Gibson and Rhodes proved elusive — investigators went to five locations and came up empty. Finally, one managed to serve a subpoena to a family member, ordering Gibson to appear in court. She showed up as scheduled, her mother in tow.
“She was hostile,” Bjerkhoel recalled of the prosecution’s efforts to obtain information. “She refused to answer at all. Her mother was telling her not to talk. She didn’t seem to really comprehend what (had) happened.”
Banks — a heavily recruited football player who was headed to the University of Southern California on a full scholarship when he was wrongly convicted — yesterday announced plans to sue the state of California. Under state law, a person wrongfully convicted is entitled to $100 a day for every day in prison.
Gibson and Rhodes continue to live in the shadows, untraceable and vilified for robbing a promising athlete of a college education and an NFL career.
“They don’t even have those cars, the bill collectors came and repossessed them,” the neighbor said. “Then they started selling everything. I remember Wanetta came up here and asked me if I wanted her kids’ new PlayStation for 50 bucks.”