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Judge gives Wilder’s slavery museum more time

A federal judge in Richmond today agreed to give the U.S. National Slavery Museum another month to restart fundraising and come up with a reorganization plan.

Former Gov. Doug Wilder, the museum’s founder, was not in court; he had previously said he had an out-of-state speaking engagement.

Sandra Robinson, the museum’s lawyer, said she expects to have a reorganization plan ready by the next status hearing, which was set for Feb. 29.

By the end of January, the museum’s new accountant plans to have filed federal tax returns for the museum for the years between 2008 and 2011 — those returns were never filed. Robinson told the judge that those returns are required before the state will renew the museum’s authority to raise charitable donations. She hopes to get that authorization renewed, and then build a reorganization plan based on projections of how much money the museum might be able to raise in donations.

The museum owed about $7 million, including about $254,000 in back taxes to the city of Fredericksburg on the museum’s land. The city is planning to auction off the museum land if the taxes aren’t paid.

Last month, the city’s attorney for the case, Jeffrey Scharf, had filed motions in court requesting that the court appoint an examiner to investigate the museum’s tax filings. He specifically questioned the 2005 990 tax return, in which $1.6 million seemed unaccounted for. Robinson, in her own filing, said that money was listed in a line that covered the purchase of “various fixed assets.” Yesterday she agreed to provide by Feb. 14 an analysis of that particular tax return.

Scharf also wanted to move the case to Chapter 7, which would require the museum to liquidate.

Scharf today said he supports Robinson’s request for more time to file a reorganization plan. He said the museum’s hiring of a new accountant — different from the one that filed the original returns — should accomplish his goal of having someone inspect the old financial filings.

“It seemed a reasonable way to get someone to look” at the tax returns, he said after the hearing. “I still think there needs to be an accounting.”

If Robinson does not meet the deadline for a reorganization plan, or if the museum fails to follow through on that plan, Scharf’s motions (for an examiner and to move to Chapter 7) are still there and could be revived.