ARTnewsletter Archive

More Problems Plague Already Embattled Getty

With its president and CEO’s expenditures being investigated and a senior curator awaiting trial, the J. Paul Getty Trust has undergone months of public scrutiny. Now the institution faces another probe and the loss of a top official.

NEW YORK—With its president and CEO’s expenditures being investigated and a senior curator awaiting trial, the J. Paul Getty Trust has undergone months of public scrutiny. Now the institution faces another probe and the loss of a top official.

In the wake of several Los Angeles Times reports detailing the compensation and expenditures of Trust president and CEO Barry Munitz, California attorney general Bill Lockyer has launched a broad review of the Getty Trust’s finances, reportedly requesting a wide sampling of financial documents that relate to Munitz’s eight-year tenure. In June the Times published a detailed report of Munitz’s spending—among other things, for extensive first-class travel, often in the company of his wife (one trip to Italy topped $35,000), and $72,000 for a Porsche SUV. The Times reported that Munitz’s pay package in 2004 surpassed $1.2 million—making him one of the best-paid executives at a nonprofit in the United States—even as the Getty Trust was initiating staff and budget cuts elsewhere.

In late August, Munitz’s chief of staff Jill Murphy, 33, announced she would leave her post by the end of the year. The Times cited her “broad power and sometimes brusque management style” as having caused tension and drawn complaints from some Getty employees. In a November interview with the Times, Munitz acknowledged her “sharp elbows.” Murphy said in an e-mail to the Times that the decision to leave was hers and that she had no definite plans beyond taking time off, reading and doing volunteer work.

The state investigation is reported to include an inquiry into the Getty’s acquisition of antiquities that Italian authorities claim were illegally excavated. Veteran curator Marion True is awaiting a November trial in Rome, where she has been indicted on charges of conspiring to receive illegally exported artworks. Reportedly the attorney general also is reviewing a 2002 real estate deal between the Getty and California financier and top art collector Eli Broad that centers on the sale of a Brentwood property to Broad for a price allegedly below its appraised value.

Teresa Schilling, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, told ARTnewsletter that the office could neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation. “Because nonprofits and charities are entirely dependent on donations and charitable giving,” she explains, “even an accusation would have a huge impact on their financial resources. So, if we investigate, anything released to the public . . . would be associated with breaking the law.” (A Getty spokesman confirmed the investigation with ARTnewsletter.)

Schilling further points out that “the attorney general is charged with guarding the public trust. Part of [Lockyer’s] job is to oversee charitable trusts, and he has made providing transparency a priority.”

Asked for comment, the Getty released a statement to ARTnewsletter: “The Getty has told the attorney general’s office that we will cooperate fully with any investigation that it undertakes. Counsel to the Getty has already met with representatives of the attorney general’s office to ensure that information or documents responsive to any request are produced as quickly as possible.”

Shortly after the state investigation was reported, Pamela Johnson, Getty vice president for communications and corporate relations, resigned. According to a Times report, Johnson, who was responsible for both internal and external public relations, had been hired just two years ago with a $127,500 signing bonus. She was among the Getty Trust’s highest-paid officers and received total compensation of $318,261 for the fiscal year ending June 2004, the Times said.

In a statement e-mailed to that newspaper, Johnson said the decision to resign was solely hers: “I can confirm that I am leaving the Getty for personal reasons to return home to Nashville, Tennessee. Any attempts to characterize my departure as otherwise will simply be wrong. This was not an easy decision, and I regret leaving the Getty with so many promising opportunities ahead.”

Earlier this year the Getty hired Michael Sitrick, a public-relations expert based in Century City, Calif., who is known for crisis management. Forbes magazine dubbed Sitrick “the Flack for When You’re Under Attack,” a title Sitrick and Company touts on its website.

The Times reported that the Getty had paid the firm a $60,000 retainer plus a $10,000 advance for expenses. Additionally the firm has charged the Getty Trust up to $650 per hour to help formulate responses to questions put forth by the Times and other media outlets.

The Council on Foundations, a Washington, D.C., industry group to which the Getty Trust belongs, also initiated a review of the foundation in the wake of the June reports in the Times. Janne Gallagher, general counsel for the organization, notes that California is among the few states with the resources to investigate private foundations and is aggressive about such matters in comparison with other states.

The Getty has further attracted the scrutiny of Senate Finance Committee chairman Charles Grassley, who, over the past year, has been spearheading a movement for better transparency and tighter oversight of nonprofit organizations (see ANL, 7/5/05). Commenting on the news of the attorney general’s inquiry, Grassley said: “Based on the Los Angeles Times’ reporting, the state attorney general is taking the responsible course of action. The newspaper raised a series of troubling questions about how the Getty functions and whether its governance is lacking. Nonprofit status is government-conferred and taxpayer-supported.”

On a positive note, the institution recently named Michael Brand, director of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, as director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. Brand replaces Deborah Gribbon, who resigned last October over what she called “critical differences” with Munitz.

A Getty spokesman confirmed that, in May, following a two-year audit by the Internal Revenue Service, the Getty’s tax-exempt status was upheld.