APRIL 15, 2008
Keeping with the tradition of abusing tax dollars at the world’s largest nonprofit museum complex, the head of the Smithsonian Latino Center quit after violating numerous ethical and conflict-of-interest policies less than a year after her boss at the institute resigned for the same thing.
A Smithsonian Inspector General’s report reveals that Pilar O’Leary, who made $200,000 a year to oversee Latino history, used Smithsonian funds for personal luxuries, steered lucrative contracts to friends and abused her position to obtain free gifts.
O’Leary used tax dollars to pay for extravagant spas, luxury hotels and frequent limousine rides. She often refused to stay at hotels offering government rates, instead booking at more expensive places like the Ritz Carlton and Four Seasons. During one December 2006 Four Seasons stay in Los Angeles, she charged taxpayers $335 for spa expenses at a luxury facility.
This is just the latest of many scandals at the Smithsonian Institution, the world’s largest museum complex and research organization. The institute is made up of 19 museums, nine research centers and the National Zoo and depends on taxpayer dollars for most if its $1.1 billion annual budget. Established in 1997, the Latino center gets its own $1 million annual federal appropriation to promote Hispanic culture.
The Washington newspaper that has documented the institution’s scandals over the years exposed this latest ordeal after requesting O’Leary’s inspector general report through the Freedom of Information Act. Just last year, the man who hired O’Leary, former Smithsonian Secretary Lawrence Small, resigned for using museum funds to pay for personal luxuries, including use of a private jet and chauffeur services.
The director of the Smithsonian’s American Indian museum was also exposed last year for spending more than a quarter of a million dollars in Smithsonian funds to pay for first-class travel, including lavish resort stays, limousines and more than a dozen trips to Paris. Many of his Smithsonian-financed trips—Athens, Bali, Indonesia, London and Singapore, to name a few—took him far from American Indian culture.
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