Courts & Crime

California AG is asked to investigate Fresno auction

A local attorney is asking the state Attorney General's Office to investigate whether it is proper for the Fresno Metropolitan Museum to sell off its collection to satisfy its debts.

Fresno attorney Robert Rosati's action comes as the museum is scheduled to auction its non-art property today, with proceeds going toward the $4 million in debt that led in part to the museum's demise last month.Rosati claims that The Met, in being granted nonprofit status, agreed that its assets were public and would be used for public purposes. If the museum ever dissolved, Rosati contends, its assets should continue to be used for a public purpose.

That would mean, Rosati said, transferring the items to another public charity such as the Fresno Historical Society or the Fresno Art Museum.

The Met's collection will be "sold to who knows whom," Rosati said. "This is art given by people in the Central Valley for people in the Central Valley. It should stay in the Central Valley."

Rosati is making a similar complaint about The Met's historic building, which now is in the hands of the city. The city took title to the building, the former home to The Bee, and surrounding property late last year after paying off a defaulted $15 million bank loan for the museum.

The museum received state grant money, Rosati said, under terms that the building would continue to be used as a "public forum." Leasing the building to a charter school -- which has been discussed -- or another private enterprise would not be a public use, Rosati said.

"In the complaint, I ask the AG's Office to investigate and see if my contentions are correct," Rosati said.

A spokesman for the state Attorney General's Office said Tuesday that the complaint has not yet been received.

Museum board President Stewart Randall said he has not seen Rosati's complaint and could not comment. He did say, however, that a few people who made donations have sought their return. But to earn a charitable-donation deduction, rights to the object are signed away, Randall said.

Though The Met is scheduled to auction its non-art property today, still to be determined is how thousands of pieces of art acquired by The Met will be sold. Museum officials have said they are negotiating over an auctioneer and a sale date. They estimate the collection's value at $3 million to $6 million. Proceeds from both auctions will go to The Met's creditors.

Read the full story at the Fresno Bee.