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State Attorney General Investigating San Diego Opera

Aired 5/21/14 on KPBS News.

Letters were sent last week to the San Diego Opera's board asking for documents and data, including information about the "transfer of charitable assets" and material related to accounting and billing matters.

The troubled San Diego Opera, which announced its closure in March and then was reborn under new leadership, confirmed Tuesday that it is the subject of an investigation by the California attorney general.

“The company understands the attorney general’s interest in San Diego Opera and is cooperating fully with the audit,” said Bob Ross, an attorney who represents the opera.

“The company wishes to assure its employees, benefactors and all the people who have been following the recreation of San Diego Opera that it will work through this period and emerge a fiscally responsible, energized opera company deeply rooted in the community and focused on the future.”

A spokesman for the attorney general declined to comment about the specifics in the case.

State assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez was not surprised to hear of the investigation. She says she and others encouraged the attorney general to look into the opera.

“We were concerned about the public investment in the opera and we didn’t know if the opera provided public agencies with information about its supposed financial problems when soliciting taxpayer investments,” said Gonzalez.

The opera gets funding from the cities of San Diego and Chula Vista as well as San Diego county. The city’s Commission for Arts and Culture recently cut the amount of funding it gives to the opera by more than half.

In early April, Marcus Owens, a former IRS official and attorney in Washington, D.C. told KPBS the compensation packages of the opera’s two top executives at the time, general director Ian Campbell and his deputy director and ex-wife Ann Spira Campbell, were “generous.”

“I think the state attorney general will be giving the organization a call soon,” Owens said.

The attorney general's investigation is asking the opera to turn over documents related to accounting and billing matters and preserve electronic data, including information about the "transfer or use of charitable assets," according to documents obtained by KPBS.

One letter from the attorney general, dated May 15, 2014, was sent to the opera's board of directors, and was addressed to past president Karen Cohn. It requested hundreds of financial documents, some dating as far back as 1983. The opera has 30 days to comply.

Documents requested include:

  • A copy of the general ledger reflecting all payments made by San Diego Opera;
  • Correspondence related to donations greater than $5,000 received by the public;
  • A schedule of Ian Campbell’s and Ann Spira Campbell’s total compensation history from 1983 to the present;
  • A detailed description of all perks and benefits for directors and key employees who receive an annual compensation of $100,000 or more.
  • All documents related to the board’s consideration of executive compensation.
  • Documents related to fundraising campaigns, grant applications, by-laws and meeting minutes.

Another letter, dated May 16, 2014, asks that all opera documents be immediately preserved, including those on personal computers of executives.

In March, the opera board voted 33-1 to close the company. After two months of upheaval, the opera board announced Monday that the company would stay open and present a 2015 season, marking the opera’s 50th anniversary.

The company has cut ties with Campbell, its longtime general director,, and his ex-wife, who was the deputy general director. Their compensation packages and Campbell's role in urging the opera to fold led to upheaval among opera supporters. Lawyers are still negotiating a settlement between the opera and the Campbells.

Keith Fisher, the San Diego Opera’s new chief operating officer, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon: “We welcome the opportunity to open our records to Kamala Harris’s office, as doing so will assure the public of our promise of transparency and good governance. Public support of the company in the future can only be successful with the public’s trust. I’m confident that the results of this audit will strengthen that trust.”

KPBS editor Tom Fudge contributed to this story.

Comments

Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | May 20, 2014 at 8:08 p.m. ― 3 months, 4 weeks ago

The Campbell's are dirty, and if the investigation shows corruption and mismanagement on their parts, then this "hefty" compensation package should be docked accordingly.

I think these two thought sleepy un-cultured San Diego would just roll over and be silent as the Campbell's destroyed an institution and escaped with their fortunes.

I'm glad those involved with the Opera didn't let them get away with it.

These two have really fallen from grace.

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Avatar for user 'rebeccarossa'

rebeccarossa | May 20, 2014 at 10:07 p.m. ― 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Many financial documents and 990s are available online for perusal. If you look at the change in format between the 2009 and 2010 financial reports, and the discrepancies between the 2010 financial statements vs the 990 filed that year I can see why an Audit is underway. I can't wait for the results! Bound to be worthy of an episode of American Greed.

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Avatar for user 'jbpolhamus'

jbpolhamus | May 21, 2014 at 1:16 a.m. ― 3 months, 4 weeks ago

I agree with you so whole-heartedly, Peking_Duck_SD. That self-serving piece of Kangaroo Dung, Campbell, has had San Diego by the throat for THIRTY YEARS, and he really thought he was not only going to walk right out of town, but throw us to the ground as he left. I hope this audit hoists him by his own petard. And rebeccarossa, I TOO can't wait to see the results. The more criminality that is exposed by this, the better our opera will ultimately look, having shaken off this marauder. Finally, the opera is OURS again.

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Avatar for user 'Prosecutor'

Prosecutor | May 21, 2014 at 7:06 a.m. ― 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Why is the office of the Attorney General, a state agency, conducting an investigation of the San Diego Opera. The opera has no state impact, it is a local entity. If there is an investigation to be done, why is it not being conducted by the District Attorney? Is there yet another conflict of interest involving DA Dumanis? What is the full story here?

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Avatar for user 'jmdestefanoii'

jmdestefanoii | May 21, 2014 at 8:03 a.m. ― 3 months, 4 weeks ago

Prosecutor. SDO is a non-profit corporation, incorporated under state law. Any failure to properly discharge their responsibilities as a state corporation under California statute would then be investigated by the State Attorney General. One of the requirements for a corp, as I'm sure you are aware, is proper filing of financials with the state. rebeccarossa already pointed out one issue there. Secondly, there is a question of whether the Board had been acting in accordance with State corp. requirements in how they had been managing (or mismanaging) the Company. Again a project for the State AG's office. Lastly, there were multiple Cities and agencies who contributed funds to the Company. Mismanagement of taxpayer funds could fall to Dumanis, but the more appropriate authority is the state.

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