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Ex-COO files 'whistleblower' suit against downtown museum

October 5, 2017
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GRAM names COO
Neil Bremer. Courtesy GRAM

A lawsuit has been filed against a museum downtown, alleging the misuse of donor-restricted funds.

The Grand Rapids-based Howard Law Group filed a Whistleblower Protection suit against the Grand Rapids Art Museum, or GRAM, on Sep. 22 with the 17th Circuit Court of Kent County.

The firm’s client and plaintiff in the case is D. Neil Bremer, the former chief operating officer of the GRAM.

According to the suit, Bremer, who was hired as COO in or around June 2015, allegedly began to notice the museum was “misusing and borrowing earmarked funds to pay for other expenses, including general operation expenses.”

When a nonprofit, like the GRAM, solicits a donation, and a donor restricts the purpose of their donation, the receiver must comply with the donor’s wishes, according to the Howard Law Group. The suit against the GRAM alleges the museum used restricted funds to pay for expenses outside of their intended purposes.

According to a statement from the GRAM, “The Grand Rapids Art Museum is not at liberty to comment in detail due to pending litigation. We can say, however, that we 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.”

The case against the GRAM is pending trial by jury.

The suit says when Bremer allegedly began to notice the museum was “misusing and borrowing earmarked funds,” he reported his findings to Dana Friis-Hansen, chief executive officer of the GRAM, and Maria Davis, human resources director of the GRAM.

When allegedly “no corrective action was taken,” the suit says Bremer “attempted” to report past “misuse” to the board and then intended to report “the issues” to public officials if no corrective action was taken. The suit alleges Bremer’s employment was terminated by the GRAM to “prevent him from disclosing its misuse of earmarked funds.”

In an audited financial statement, the GRAM reported $5,657,723 in “total support, revenue and re-classifications” and $7,095,310 in total expenses for the year ended Sept. 30, 2014, the last year such a statement was posted online.

Public and private donations to the current GRAM site, which opened in 2007, and operating endowment amounted to more than $75 million.

GRAM

The Grand Rapids Art Museum is a nonprofit founded in 1910.

The organization’s mission is to "connect people through art, creativity and design."

Howard Law Group

The Howard Law Group handles litigation, business disputes, intellectual property and estate planning.

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