Bowers director was in trouble before

The O.C. Register has added to the developing story about the Bowers Museum raid, and there are some nuggets in there worth excerpting:

Bowers President Peter Keller said he had been assured the museum’s artifacts were in the country legally.

The items under investigation include bronze and ceramics from Bowers’ Ban Chiang collection. Antiquities from the Ban Chiang culture were excavated in northeastern Thailand during the 1960s and date back to between 1000 BC and 200 AD, according to the court documents.

According to the papers, Olson told the undercover agent he had attached “Made in Thailand” labels to the antiquities to make them look like replicas so he could get them out of Thailand.

Olson found out which antiquities interested then-Bowers curator Armand Labbé and sold them to the agent. After Labbé died in April 2005, the agent spoke with Keller, who said he did not know if it was legal for Olson to be bringing antiquities out of Thailand, court papers said.

Keller told the agent he and Labbé had argued about this fact.

Keller has headed the museum since 2001 and makes $179,996 a year, according to a museum tax return filed in May 2007.

A nonprofit corporation runs the Bowers and owns the artifacts in its permanent collections. But the city of Santa Ana owns the land and the museum buildings, and contributed $2.02 million this fiscal year toward its operations.

Mayor Miguel Pulido also serves on the museum’s board of governors. He said that museum officials did not consult the board when they acquired artifacts or accepted donations.

But he said the museum may have been accepting donated items from people named in the court documents for more than 10 years. It had returned some of those items before Thursday’s raid, he said, but he did not know how many items had been returned, or to whom.

“Now it turns out that there was a trader who was misrepresenting some of those works,” Pulido said. “I think everybody simply believed in the way it was all presented to them.”

I don’t believe anything Pulido has to say about any of this. And I certainly don’t believe Keller. Here are a few tidbits about the busted Bowers president, from the O.C. Register:

The Bowers Museum and museum director Peter Keller were under a different black cloud eight years ago, when a Register investigation revealed that Keller had purchased artifacts for himself at wholesale prices, putting the museum’s non-profit status at risk and violating the code of ethics by which museums abide.

Between 1992 and 1999, Keller bought items for his personal use while on buying trips for the museum store, in this country and abroad. The museum paid the shipping costs for Keller’s personal items, according to two former store managers.

“Peter ran (the store) as his way of obtaining things, getting objects at incredible prices,” said Grant Breading, who ran the Bowers store from 1996-1998. “There was no concern at all (at the Bowers) for the way other museums did things.”

The museum was also allowing staff and board members to sell personal belongings on consignment in the store, splitting the proceeds 50-50. Such practices are also considered unethical because they give staff and board members a privilege not afforded the public.

Something still stinks at the Bowers…and government officials know it. Here is a question to ponder, could the City of Santa Ana, which owns the land the Bowers sits on and pays for its operations, be on the hook for penalties stemming from the raid?

Nice going Pulido! As board members he and Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante could have stopped all of this. They chose to look the other way, and I believe it is likely that when the total story is revealed we will come to find that Keller was indeed directed by the board of directors to do things that were illegal and unethical. His only hope will be to turn on the board and finger them. Then this story will really get interesting…


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"Admin" is just editors Vern Nelson, Greg Diamond, or Ryan Cantor sharing something that they mostly didn't write themselves, but think you should see. Before December 2010, "Admin" may have been former blog owner Art Pedroza.