An inquiry into a whistleblower complaint involving Detroit Institute of Arts director Salvador Salort-Pons and board chair Eugene A. Gargaro found no misconduct by the two leaders at the museum. The complaint, which was made by anonymous DIA employees and initially submitted to the Internal Revenue Service and Michigan attorney general Dana Nessel in June, alleged that Salort-Pons engaged in unethical behavior by showing two paintings owned by his family members at the museum. Another version of the whistleblower complaint, filed in July, implicated Gargaro, who allegedly “failed to disclose his personal relationship” with one of the lenders, according to the complaint.
The complaint reported that two paintings displayed at the museum—An Allegory of Autumn, which has been attributed to the circle of Nicolas Poussin, and El Greco’s St. Francis Receiving the Stigmata—are owned by a family trust operated by Salort-Pons’s wife, Alexandra May, and his father-in-law, Alan M. May. It alleged that “the exhibition of and funds invested in these two paintings by the DIA may served to personally enrich the director’s family,” that Salort-Pons “never publicly disclosed his family’s financial interest in these two paintings,” and that the director “kept close, personal, and secretive control over the handling and display of these paintings.”
The July update to the complaint alleged that Gargaro maintained a friendship with Alan May and that, “despite this possible conflict of interest, Gargaro nevertheless failed to disclose his personal relationship to the May Family Trust in accordance with written, binding DIA policies.”
According to a statement from the DIA, the Washington D.C.–based law firm Crowell & Moring, which the institution had enlisted to independently investigate the allegations outlined in the complaint, has over the course of three months found no misconduct on the part of the director or board chair. The release states that Salort-Pons and Gargaro “acted in all respects with the best interests of the DIA in mind.”
“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 statement reads. Crowell & Moring, which is currently conducting a separate investigation into workplace culture at the museum, has offered proposed changes to DIA’s processes “to help avoid appearances of conflicts of interest and to clarify potential policy ambiguities,” according to the statement.
John N. Tye, founder and CEO of the nonprofit Whistleblower Aid, which filed the complaint on behalf of the museum employees, told the Art Newspaper, “Neither Whistleblower Aid nor its clients, who are current and former DIA employees, were contacted by Crowell & Moring during the course of what DIA describes as an ‘exhaustive’ investigation. Furthermore, the resulting report is not being released to the public. These are sure signs that DIA is not serious about addressing the conflicts of interest disclosed by our clients.”