San Francisco Museum in Turmoil as Board President Accused of Financial Misconduct

The complaint involves a $450,000 payment to a museum staffer.

Dede Wilsey. Photo: Drew Altizer, courtesy the Nob Hill Gazette.

San Francisco city officials are looking into a complaint filed against philanthropist and board president of San Francisco’s de Young museum, Dede Wilsey, over a $450,000 payment to a museum staffer, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The complaint from the museum’s chief financial officer, Michele Gutierrez, is being investigated by City Hall and the office of the state Attorney General Kamala Harris.

The payment was allegedly made to Bill Huggins, a city worker assigned to the museum who retired in September 2014 after suffering a heart attack. His wife, Therese Chen, is the director of registration for the de Young, and has reportedly done significant personal favors for Wilsey over the years, including chauffeuring a priceless Matisse painting that Wilsey owns to and from her home and the museum, where it is usually displayed.

The Chronicle received a statement from Wilsey’s personal publicist, reportedly from the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (of which the de Young is part) claiming that the payment was “a disability severance payment authorized under section 5.102 of the City Charter” “made under the recommendation” of Gutierrez.

From the story:

Before cutting the check, Wilsey assured Gutierrez she was getting approval from the 46-member Board of Trustees for the unusual use of museum funds, sources said. However, soon after the check went out in May 2014, Gutierrez learned from members of the board’s Finance Committee that they knew nothing about the payment, sources say.

Osher, who served on the Finance Committee and who has a wing of the de Young named after him and his wife — confronted Wilsey, who insisted she had sole authority as CEO to make the payment, sources tell us.

When asked for comment, Wilsey’s personal publicist sent us a statement billed as being from Fine Arts Museums, saying the $450,000 payment was “made under the recommendation” of CFO Gutierrez, and described it as “a disability severance payment authorized under section 5.102 of the City Charter.” (The section allows for “competitive compensation” for certain valued workers for retention purposes.)

Wilsey, whose stepson Sean Wilsey wrote disparagingly about her in his 2005 tell-all Oh the Glory of It All, donated $10 million of her own money to put toward the de Young’s new home, which opened in 2005, funded in part by $190 million in private funds.

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