Lawsuit: GRAM misused restricted donations

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Grand Rapids Art Museum is fending off allegations it misappropriated donations.

A lawyer for Neil Bremer, the GRAM’s former chief operating officer, filed a whistleblower suit, claiming the museum was moving donated money into the general fund rather than using it exclusively for the programs for which it was intended.

In the suit, which was filed in Kent County Circuit Court about two weeks ago, Bremer claimed he reported the misuse of the restricted donations to GRAM CEO Dana Friis-Hansen and Maria Davis, the human resources director, but nothing was done. The suit says Bremer tried to work with Friis-Hansen to resolve the issue but intended to report the GRAM to public officials if it wasn’t fixed. Bremer says he was fired without notice so he wouldn’t report the situation.

The suit says that’s a violation of the Michigan Whistleblowers’ Protection Act. It asks the court to award Bremer damages, lost wages, the value of lost benefits and attorney fees.

In the Thursday release from the law firm representing him, Bremer said he “wanted to help GRAM adopt a best-practices approach to financial management.”

“When a nonprofit that relies extensively on donations from the community acts in a cavalier fashion with its entrusted funds, this undermines the trust donors have for all nonprofits,” he stated.

The GRAM responded in a Thursday statement, saying the allegations in the suit were baseless:

“The Grand Rapids Art Museum is not at liberty to comment in detail due to pending litigation. We can say, however that we fully reject the accusations cited in the complaint and have strong documentation to refute the complaint. The allegations have no merit whatsoever and GRAM’s actions have at all times been entirely lawful and appropriate.

“We have every confidence that our rationale for dismissal of this matter will be confirmed through legal channels. We have no intention of engaging in public comment, so we will not be commenting beyond this statement.”