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Recently, I broke the news that Vermilionville cost the Bayou Vermilion District $1 MILLION last year. In fact, the losses have been steadily increasing since 2008, which is the earliest date checked by their internal bookkeepers. That year, they lost $355,328. Over the years, they’ve gradually been spending ever increasing taxpayer money on Vermilionville the museum. However, total bayou cleanup and operations has remained relatively flat: 2008 was $210,600 and 2019 was $277,070.
When this discovery was first announced, Vermilionville Living History Museum Foundation (VLHMF) president, Michael Martin, aggressively commented on our Facebook page. Other than wanting to review the original document himself, there really wasn’t any substance to any of his ramblings. For example, one of his accusations was that Citizens for a New Louisiana only wants to shut down Vermilionville. As I mentioned in my video, that’s simply not true. First of all, my wife and I were married there, so we have a vested interest in keeping it around.
Something I think readers should also know is false accusations are the only source of the left’s success. These tactics echo the standard plot of every single Scooby Doo cartoon. To keep ugly truths hidden, a variety of bully tactics are employed to scare good people away: creation of false boogeymen, application of negative labels, and misrepresenting intentions. Thanks to human nature, these tactics remain very effective deterrents. However, now that Citizens for a New Louisiana is here, those tactics are working less and less.
The VLHMF is in violation of state law
That old cliche, “what’s mine is mine, and what’s yours is mine,” could almost be the mission statement of the museum foundation board. Bayou Vermilion District’s audits and budgets are publicly available, but the foundation has been hiding theirs from public scrutiny since 2004. The foundation receives and spends money on behalf of the Bayou Vermilion District with zero accountability. It’s not that they aren’t supposed to be accountable, it’s that they refuse to be.
This isn’t new for the VLHMF. Finding their audits on the legislative auditor’s website reveals they had quite a bit of trouble filing on time. Even though they had been operating since 1996, they didn’t file most of their reports until 2004.
According to Ms. Sudha R. Jindia, a certified public accountant who works for the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s office, the museum foundation is wholly owned by Bayou Vermilion District. That means any money that comes into the foundation or is spent by the foundation is supposed to be reported to the legislative auditor in an annual audit. It can be done as a free-standing report (like the foundation did previously) or it can be included in BVD’s annual audit. However, neither of those things has been happening. The last report filed by the foundation board was for 2003. Since then, the foundation’s financial maneuverings have been completely opaque.
The “museum” board isn’t in charge
Despite their insistence of being Lafayette’s first ever autonomous zone, the documents used to create VLHMF clearly state that they are owned by the Bayou Vermilion District. I know this because I walked over to the clerk of court’s office and pulled VLHMF’s articles of incorporation. At the bottom of page two, it clearly states that VLHMF is a Louisiana non-profit corporation established by and operating under the direction of the Lafayette Parish Bayou Vermilion District.
Even so, the museum foundation has been hiding assets from the district for years. In an email (that you should read) to the entire BVD board, VLHMF board president, Michael Martin, insists that the non-profit VLHMF owns over $180,000 in historical artifacts. Further, he questions why the board wants to know about them! He also wanted to know why the BVD board wants a list of foundation board members and their meeting attendance records. It sure looks like someone doesn’t want to be held to account.
What are they hiding?
There’s always a paper trail. However, knowing where to look can the the hard part. If they haven’t been filing audits with the Louisiana Legislative Auditor, then who would they be filing reports to? Well, any non-profit has to file an annual report with the Internal Revenue Service. Those reports have a public version. Here are all of the reports I could find for VLHMF:
If you’re really interested, click all of the reports and have a look for yourself. “Schedule O” is where the fun stuff is tucked away. On the 2019 report Schedule O includes some interesting expenses. Travel was $1,499. Conferences, Conventions, and Meetings was another $1,312. Entertainment was another $2,085. “Miscellaneous” is… $24,185! That’s quite a bit of “miscellaneous” expenses, don’t you think? Normally, these kinds of things would be included in the annual audit – except that they haven’t submit one for seventeen years. These expenses are also supposed to be subject to public records requests, because the foundation is owned by a political subdivision of the State of Louisiana, Bayou Vermilion District. However, at the moment, I have no idea what those expenses accomplished related to the foundation’s mission.
Certainly, an employee’s “professional development” in the form of an all-expenses paid trip to Canada (reportedly for six weeks) may be tough to defend on the public money side. It’s much easier to hide that kind of expense through the non-profit. So far, we don’t have the travel and expense report documents, but I’ve been assured that the trip did take place.
Add to this that it’s also illegal for a public body to “loan” funds to anyone. However, in 2018 the VLHMF loaned “Jonathon” the sum of $2,652. The 2019 report reflects that in the year (or longer) since the loan, Jonathan still hadn’t paid back any of the money. We don’t even know Jonathan’s last name, or if he works at the BVD or VLHMF.
Yes, it’s time for a forensic audit
Just a quick review of a few years of IRS forms 990 reveal the kinds of questions that only a forensic audit could answer. It’s also become painfully obvious that people on the VLHMF board, including President Michael Martin, would say anything to prevent digging into their books. However, in the interest of government transparency, the audit must be done. After all, how can the BVD board expect to fix Vermilionville if they’re blocked from knowing what’s been going on there for the last 17 years?
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