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Grand jury is looking into History Museum controversy

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 1, 2013 - The St. Louis circuit attorney’s office has presented issues involving the Missouri History Museum for consideration by a grand jury.

Two commissioners of the Zoo-Museum District – Charles Valier and Gloria Wessels – said they have received subpoenas from the grand jury asking for documents involving three issues:

  • the purchase by the museum in 2006 of land on Delmar for a community center that was never completed.
  • the possible destruction of documents related to unused vacation days for which former museum president Robert Archibald has been reimbursed in the amount of $566,000 
  • a pledge by the museum, since withdrawn, of $1 million for the Loop trolley project, which would connect the museum with the Delmar Loop. The pledge, which was withdrawn in September, was made by museum trustees at a time that Archibald headed both the museum and the nonprofit Loop Trolley Co.

Archibald resigned from the museum late last year after signing a one-year contract to serve as president in 2013. According to the website of the Loop Trolley, he is no longer associated with that project either.

Valier told the Beacon that the subpoena that he received three or four weeks ago asked for documents he had concerning those issues. He said he turned the documents over and has not heard anything since.

As a lawyer, he said, he has not had enough experience with criminal matters to judge what it might mean that the grand jury had become involved. But, he added, “it struck me that the circuit attorney, by presenting matters to the grand jury, was obviously doing something more than a cursory investigation.”

Susan Ryan, spokesperson for the circuit attorney’s office, said anything involving the grand jury is confidential, so she could not confirm its involvement. She repeated a statement issued by the office earlier, saying:

“Upon request, we have agreed to review concerns brought to the St. Louis Board of Aldermen in connection with the Missouri History Museum. At this point, it would be inappropriate to discuss this matter further.”

Alderman Joe Roddy has begun an investigation into various aspects of the museum’s operations as well. He had scheduled a hearing for March 7, but that has been postponed, with no new date set. Any report that his parks and environment committee might issue on the museum would have to be completed by mid-April, when a new session of the Board of Aldermen convenes.

The probes, by the circuit attorney and by Roddy, continue, but two others have released findings.

One, by former U.S. attorney Edward Dowd, who was hired by the museum’s board of trustees, concluded that there is no credible evidence that documentation for Archibald’s unused vacation days was improperly destroyed or removed from the museum building.

In the second inquiry, an appraisal of the property at 5863 Delmar, concluded that the museum paid far more for the land than it was worth at the time. The purchase price was $875,000, but the appraisal valued the property at $260,000. Questions have arisen about the deal not only because of the price but because one of the owners of the property, former Mayor Freeman Bosley Jr., served at one time as a trustee of the museum.

The museum’s board of trustees has said it wants to take a closer look at the appraisal to determine whether it used all the facts available and to bolster their case that the museum is using its funds properly.

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