The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
Wilder seeking delay in museum hearing
Former Gov. Doug Wilder wants a federal court to postpone its next hearing on the bankruptcy of the U.S. National Slavery Museum so that he can address the city of Fredericksburg’s questions about the whereabouts of $1.6 million in donations.
The slavery museum, which was supposed to be built in Fredericksburg, filed for bankruptcy last summer. No museum has been built, and Fredericksburg plans to auction the land at Celebrate Virginia for back taxes. The museum has about $7 million in debts.
The next hearing in the case was scheduled for Jan. 18, after Wilder and his attorney failed to show up at a December hearing.
In a motion filed this week, Wilder’s attorney, Sandra Robinson, says that failure was the unintentional result of a scheduling mistake. She wants the next hearing postponed because Wilder is not available to appear on Jan. 18–he’ll be at a speaking engagement out of state–and he “desires to be present and heard on the City of Fredericksburg’s motion.”
The motion in question is from Jeffrey Scharf, who is representing the Fredericksburg treasurer’s office. Scharf filed the motion last month, asking for an investigation into the slavery museum’s finances and suggesting that the museum’s bankruptcy should be moved from Chapter 11–which would allow the museum to reorganize–to Chapter 7, which would require the museum to liquidate and would let Fredericksburg move forward with selling the museum’s land in the city for back taxes.
Scharf cited a 2005 federal tax return filed by the museum that shows the museum started that year with about $1.59 million. It brought in $938,186 in donations and reported $603,897 in expenses. That should have left the museum with a year-end balance of $1.9 million. But it reported an ending cash balance of $315,865, leaving $1.61 million unaccounted for.
“The debtor’s financial picture is uncertain and there appear to be discrepancies in its record keeping that should be closely investigated,” Scharf wrote in his motion.
Scharf wrote that he thinks it’s unlikely the museum can reorganize under Chapter 11, given the “serious questions about the management of the debtor” and the fact that the museum has no money, no assets and no ability to raise money.
Scharf wrote that while the museum’s representatives have said their only way to repay creditors is fundraising, the museum’s ability to solicit charitable donations lapsed some time ago, and no effort has been made to reinstate it. The museum also missed a November tax payment to the city of Fredericksburg.
While Scharf wrote that these questions had been raised, and not answered, in a previous meeting, Wilder apparently wants to be heard on them now.
His attorney has suggested three dates between Feb. 14 and March 14 on which she and Wilder are available for a hearing on Scharf’s motion.
Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028