Grand Rapids Art Museum sued; accused of misuse of restricted donor funds

Posted at 4:25 PM, Oct 05, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-06 17:51:50-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. - A lawsuit has been filed against the Grand Rapids Art Museum (GRAM) claiming the institution used solicited donor-restricted funds for general operating purposes.

The suit was filed by the Howard Law Group on behalf of the former Chief Operating Officer of the GRAM, D. Neil Bremer.  The suit is a Whistleblower Protection suit and was filed on September 22.

According to a statement, Bremer allegedly reported the misuse of funds to GRAM's CEO Dana Friis-Hansen, but the situation was not corrected.

The lawsuit alleges that donations that were to be used for arts education and other restricted purposes were used for other reasons, including basic museum operations.  According to the Howard Law Group, the GRAM's accounts are at least $1 million short and they used the restricted funds to pay for general operating expenses. The lawsuit says that this is a violation of federal law.

"[GRAM officials] were taking from Peter to pay Paul," said Bill Howard, Bremer's attorney Friday.  "We're talking potentially up to 20 percent of the budgeted amount for the GRAM that year."

"This was an issue that was continuing and ongoing. [Bremer] was repeatedly told it would be corrected, we’ll take care of it, and it never got corrected. I think some of the records may show it even got worse," said Howard.

The museum has responded that they cannot comment in detail due to the pending litigation, but they do "fully reject the accusations cited in the complaint and have strong documentation to refute the complaint.  The allegations have no merit whatsoever and GRAM's actions have at all times been entirely lawful and appropriate."

Summons & Complaint filed 9.22.17 (PDF)

We'll have more details when they become available.