State Attorney General Investigating San Diego Opera
Tuesday, May 20, 2014
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.