Beacon Street Gallery Director, Board Member Charged with Stealing $400,000

From ChicagoBusiness.com

Shia Kapos

The Justice Department charged a director and board member of a Chicago art gallery that helps homeless children with stealing $400,000, but the two executives of Beacon Street Gallery and Performance Center counter that they’re being targeted by disgruntled employees — one of whom is married to an FBI agent.

Gallery director Patricia Murphy and board member Susan Field were charged with seven counts of mail fraud, wire fraud and theft of federal funds.

The indictment alleges that from May 2004 through June 2010, the two women fraudulently obtained at least $1 million in federal grants for the gallery, which combines exhibitions with performance art in its space in the Clarendon Community Center in Uptown. Of that, the government says at least $400,000 was converted into personal funds to pay credit card bills, medical expenses, car payments, apartment rentals and travel expenses.

The grant money came from the U.S. Department of Education’s 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program, which is administered by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Ms. Murphy, 66, and Ms. Field, 62, learned of the charges from my phone call. Before referring me to their attorney, they said they were closing up the 26-year-old gallery that displays multicultural art and offers arts education to homeless children and others in need.

Ms. Murphy denied any wrong-doing and said the charges stem from “two ex-employees with a vindictive streak.” One of them, she said, is married to an FBI agent, who pushed for the complaint.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office had no comment to the claim.

In the indictment, law-enforcement officials said Ms. Murphy submitted nine grant applications with false statements about the intended use of the awarded funds.

“These defendants not only abused their positions of trust for personal gain but did so at the expense of young students who relied on those funds for needed academic enrichment activities,” said special agent Thomas Utz Jr. in a press release about the indictment.

Follow Shia on Twitter at @ShiaKapos.