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Another museum in trouble

The Graves Museum in Florida is having financial difficulties:


This was the site of the symposium on dinosaur and bird evolution three years 
ago, which featured Bambiraptor.  And where is Bambiraptor now--did it ever 
return from Kansas?  Neither the article nor the website mentions this fossil.


Graves Museum's new board says institution's founder misused, mismanaged 

By Georgia East
Staff Writer

February 17, 2003

DANIA BEACH -- The very group that led a fervent fight to win control of the 
Graves Museum in July has splintered amid allegations that the founder and her 
daughter grossly mishandled the institution's finances.

Two board members charge that the former director of the Graves Museum failed 
to pay three months' mortgage and did not document how she spent a $100,000 
line of credit.

Kate Gaskill and her mother Gypsy Graves, the museum's founder, have been 
accused by the current director of almost pushing the institution into 
foreclosure, an allegation that Gaskill and Graves deny.

The accusations are causing dissension within a group that for years tried to 
regain power over the museum from another board.

Since assuming control in July, one board member has resigned, protests have 
been raised over the sale of museum property, and some are reconsidering 
whether Graves should hold the permanent founder's chair she was assigned.

"It's kind of like deja vu all over again, just different people," Gaskill 
said. "Gypsy single-handedly built this museum, and all of a sudden it's 
something different."

The infighting is the latest in a string of controversies that have plagued the 
institution, known for its treasure trove of artifacts. Founded in 1980, the 
Graves Museum moved in 1993 from a tiny space in Fort Lauderdale to the 
50,000-square-foot, two-story building at 481 S. Federal Highway. A dispute 
over how the museum would handle a $885,000 debt to SunTrust Bank appeared to 
have been the breaking point that caused a board filled with long-time friends 
to split.

"I have stab wounds in my back -- that's how I feel," said Graves, sitting 
beside her daughter and one board member. "These people do not intend to save 
the museum."

The museum's current leaders are members of an archaeological society that, 
along with Graves, won a bitter court battle against the museum's former board 
of governors. As a result of a July court settlement, the board of governors 
resigned and relinquished control to the Broward County Archaeological Society.

One of the society's first moves was to assign Graves, 73 and a scientist, a 
founder's chair. The board also named Gaskill interim museum director in charge 
of day-to-day operations, including overseeing its finances. Neither Graves nor 
her daughter was a paid staffer, they said.

But archaeological society board members Rudy Pascucci and Patty Flynn claim 
Gaskill glossed over financial decisions, leaving the museum in jeopardy.

"We removed Kate because of gross mismanagement and misappropriation of money," 
said Pascucci, who is now the museum's director.

But Gaskill said she used the $100,000 line of credit for bills that had to be 
paid so the museum could keep its doors opens. She also showed documentation of 
board minutes that stated the mortgage would not be included in those bills but 
would be negotiated further with the bank.

Last fall, Gaskill and Graves brought in benefactor Karl Thomas, who agreed to 
pay off the museum's $800,000 debt and allow them a two-year grace period 
before payments were due. However, Gaskill said Thomas had serious questions 
about the validity of the loan from SunTrust and wanted documentation from the 
bank verifying its legitimacy.

When the archaeological society took over, the museum owed SunTrust Bank 
$885,000. That included the mortgage on the museum and money used to buy 
dinosaur bones and help finance a convention for paleontologists.

"It's just sick," said Gaskill, who was ousted in December. "We were lucky to 
have someone willing to come in and help us and all we wanted to do was make 
sure the loan was legitimate." But Pascucci said he became seriously worried 
about the museum's financial future when he received a letter from SunTrust in 
November stating that several mortgage payments had not been made and that the 
museum was in default.

The letter stated that because the $200,000 due in October was not paid, the 
outstanding sum of $885,788 was due as of Nov. 5.

Pascucci said Gaskill and Thomas claimed the museum needed to revisit whether 
the SunTrust loan was legitimate and opposed signing a payment deal.

But Pascucci said he felt a payment arrangement had to be worked out and he 
asked attorney Norliza Batts, who represents the society, to look into the 
matter. Batts reached a deal requiring the museum to pay about $34,000 between 
December and January. To meet the deadline, a collection of African animal 
heads was auctioned in January, raising $18,000. The museum also laid off some 
staff for a few weeks. It closed for two days in January because the insurance 
premium on artifacts was not paid.

Some of the society's board members who support Graves opposed the auction. One 
member, Jackie Proudfoot, resigned after disagreeing with some of the board's 
recent decisions. She could not be reached for comment.

For the past three weeks, M. J. Cockerham, a longtime archaeological society 
board member, and about a dozen supporters have protested in front of SunTrust 
on Las Olas Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale.

"About $450,000 worth of collections was sold for a ridiculously small sum," 
said Cockerham, who supports Graves. "I'm worried about what's going to be sold 
next. If it happened once, they've set a precedent."

Gaskill said she still feels the legitimacy of the loan should be explored. 
SunTrust has not produced documents showing that the former board approved such 
loans, she said.

Looking ahead, Pascucci said, the museum does not want to auction any more of 
its collections. The goal is to get more research grants, attract more visitors 
and offer museum-related classes, he said.

Pascucci's group has asked a judge to prevent Graves, Gaskill and Cockerham 
from interfering in the museum's business. The judge hasn't made a decision.

That request, filed Jan. 31, came after a Broward County Circuit judge denied a 
request from some other board members to stop the collection from being 

Graves said she hasn't been back to museum since December -- and she doesn't 
intend to return as long as Pascucci and Flynn are in charge.

"I've worked on this for free since 1979," Graves said. "Why would I jeopardize 

Georgia East can be reached at geast@sun-sentinel.com or 954-385-7921. 

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