The Detroit Institute of Arts said Wednesday that a three-month review of a whistle-blower complaint against its director and board chair found they had not skirted conflict of interest rules when the museum borrowed a $5 million El Greco painting owned by the director’s father-in-law.
The complaint centered on the painting “St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata” that the museum hung in its medieval and Renaissance galleries. The director, Salvador Salort-Pons, said that his family’s interest in the painting was properly disclosed and that he informed the institute’s chairman, Eugene A. Gargaro, about the plan to lend it to the institute.
Whistleblower Aid, a nonprofit law firm in Washington representing staff members, said Mr. Salort-Pons should have taken more care in avoiding potential conflict of interest problems. In a complaint filed in June with the Internal Revenue Service and the Michigan attorney general, it said that he should have recused himself completely from the loan procedure and formally informed the entire board as well as the public about any family interest.
Whistleblower Aid said that a lack of transparency surrounding the artwork cloaked a situation that could financially benefit the director and his family, since a painting’s exhibition on the institute’s walls could burnish the painting’s value.
But the review, by the Washington law firm Crowell & Moring, found differently, the institute said. “The investigation found that the Board Chair and Director acted in all respects with the best interests of the DIA in mind and did not find that they or any employee or volunteer at the DIA engaged in any misconduct related to the allegations included in the whistle-blower complaint,” the museum said in a news release. “There was no finding of any intention to mislead or hide information, nor was there any finding of any conflict of interest, violation of DIA policy or violation of applicable law.”
The institute said the law firm’s report would not be made publicly available.
In the news release, it said the firm “undertook an exhaustive review of key documents, interviews with numerous persons with relevant knowledge, and review of applicable law, related peer group policies and industry association guidance and best practices.”
It said the review had identified possible changes that could be made to the DIA’s processes and policies in order to avoid the appearance of conflicts of interest “and to clarify potential policy ambiguities,” but it said it could not give details about what these are until the board has considered them further.
John N. Tye, founder of Whistleblower Aid, said in a statement that neither he nor his clients were contacted by the law firm that conducted the review. That and the fact that the report was not being made public “are sure signs that DIA is not serious about addressing the conflicts of interest disclosed by our clients,” he said.
The complaint was filed at a time when other concerns about Mr. Salort-Pons’s management style and DIA’s treatment of its Black employees were roiling the institute.
DIA said a separate investigation into workplace culture, carried out by another team from the same law firm, was nearing conclusion.
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