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Allegations made against Catalina conservancy exec

California state attorney general's office is said to be investigating whether the organization's executive director, Ann Muscat, misappropriated funds.

February 19, 2013|By Louis Sahagun, Los Angeles Times
  • The California state attorney general's office is investigating whether the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy's controversial executive director misappropriated funds, sources close to the case say.
The California state attorney general's office is investigating… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

The California state attorney general's office is investigating whether the Santa Catalina Island Conservancy's controversial executive director misappropriated funds, sources close to the case said Tuesday.

That allegation and others against Ann Muscat were made in complaints submitted to the attorney general by former officers of the nonprofit that manages nine-tenths of Santa Catalina Island, according to documents obtained by The Times.

Muscat declined to comment. Lynda Gledhill, press secretary for Atty. Gen. Kamala D. Harris, would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation was underway.

In a prepared statement, conservancy spokesman Jared Ficker said: "Should any complaints about the conservancy be made, we are confident that the attorney general's office would conclude that the conservancy is a well-run and effective organization. We can unequivocally state that no misuse of funds or actions by the board or its executive team are inappropriate."

One of the complaints includes a letter by Roy Rose, a major donor and volunteer who served as secretary on the conservancy's board of directors before quitting out of unhappiness with Muscat's stewardship. Rose alleged that Muscat told him she "silenced" Mel Dinkel, the conservancy's treasurer and chief operating officer who resigned in May, with "hush money" in the form of a $100,000 "consulting agreement."

"She went on to say that she was working on securing such agreements for use in the future, acknowledging that there were other Judases in the organization," Rose said in the letter.

Dinkel declined to comment.

At least 14 conservancy scientists and officials have quit in recent months, citing Muscat's leadership style and the direction she is taking the 40-year-old organization. Its $12-million annual budget is dedicated to protecting the island's habitat, wildlife and recreational opportunities.

Muscat remains on the job because a majority of the board voted in closed session Dec. 14 to keep her until a replacement was found, sources said.

Rose, 77, who recently wrote the conservancy out of his will, said in an interview, "I was alone with Ann when she said it, and it is her word against mine. I'm telling the truth."

A separate complaint filed by a former board member focused on the discovery that Muscat's current contract had been renegotiated and executed earlier this year by an executive committee without review or approval of the full board. Muscat earns about $286,000 a year, according to state tax reports.

Conservancy officials claim the contract negotiations were conducted under the guidance of a longtime outside counsel.

That second complaint added that conservancy officials warned the former board member "that they could take legal action against me if I ever discuss these issues with anyone. This seems a ploy to control information, but the bullying is working."

louis.sahagun@latimes.com

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