Former American Numismatic Association executive director Larry Shepherd has filed an amended complaint in an Illinois federal court expanding on an earlier lawsuit.
The new filing claims in more detail that several ANA staff members and elected officials terminated his employment as retaliation for his investigation into ANA museum thefts and to promote their own interests over the ANA’s.
The amended complaint was filed in the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, on May 24. The initial complaint was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Ill., on Aug. 14, 2012, and was transferred to a federal court on Jan. 2, 2013.
While the initial lawsuit named the ANA and its former legal counsel Ronald Sirna as defendants, the expanded amended complaint added current ANA President Thomas Hallenbeck, current ANA executive director Kimberly Kiick (who was ANA’s senior operations manager during the majority of Shepherd’s tenure with the ANA), former ANA director of marketing Jay Beeton and former ANA Board member J.P. Martin.
Shepherd acted as the ANA’s executive director from March 2008 through August 2011. The ANA announced that it had ended its employment agreement with Shepherd after a unanimous board vote on Sept. 20, 2011. The filing states that Shepherd was told of his termination on Aug. 20, 2011, and that the subsequent 30-day suspension was to be used for the ANA and Shepherd to negotiate a severance agreement.
At the core of Shepherd’s complaint are two issues.
First, Shepherd claims that several members of the then-ANA Board of Governors protested his investigation into employee thefts at the ANA museum and retaliated by terminating his employment.
Second, Shepherd claims that he was targeted by several ANA staff members, who, unhappy with changes Shepherd had “put in place to restore ANA’s financial health and reputation,” falsely accused him of “discriminatory and harassing conduct and unsatisfactory work performance.”
These false accusations, Shepherd argues, resulted in the termination of his employment and “resulted in significant and irreparable damage to Mr. Shepherd’s professional reputation.”
His claims include: defamation against the ANA, Kiick and Beeton; retaliatory discharge against the ANA; violation of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act against Hallenbeck and Martin; and tortuous interference with business relations against Sirna, Hallenbeck, Kiick, Beeton and Martin individually.
Entering a troubled situation
The facts portion of the filing describes the situation that Shepherd entered into when he started work at ANA’s headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo. The ANA’s former executive director, Christopher Cipoletti, had been recently removed and was fighting a legal battle with the ANA.
In 2012, Wyatt E. Yeager, a former ANA museum employee, entered a guilty plea in a Delaware federal district court to the theft of more than 300 historically significant and rare coins and patterns valued at nearly $1 million that he stole from the ANA museum over a three-month period in 2007. Yeager was sentenced on April 24, 2012, to 27 months in federal prison with two years of supervised release and ordered to pay nearly $1 million in restitution to the ANA related to his thefts.
Shepherd’s filing states that the ANA “was on the verge of bankruptcy and was set to lose over $1.5 million in 2008.” By April 2009 Shepherd submitted a balanced budget to the ANA, and in February 2011 an audit showed an ANA budget surplus in excess of $1 million. Shepherd reported that he was receiving positive feedback, his amended complaint stating: “By Fall of 2008, Mr. Shepherd was consistently receiving high praise from members of the Board. ANA recognized Mr. Shepherd’s excellent performance with a pay raise, a merit-based bonus, and a five-year contract.”
Shepherd claims that Kiick, who was at the time his direct report and second-in-command, “took every opportunity to undermine him.” The amended complaint alleges that she “lied to other staff and Board members” about Shepherd and cites a specific example of her “false, serious accusations,” the accusation that Shepherd was having an improper sexual relationship with an employee.
Shepherd claims that Kiick “worked toward undermining his authority, damaging his reputation, and creating an unstable and chaotic environment within the organization” with the ultimate goal of enhancing her standing at the ANA.
Kiick was named executive director of the ANA on May 1, less than a week after the ouster of Jeff Shevlin, who began work as executive director in June 2012.
Shepherd claims that Beeton also spread these false allegations and worked to force Shepherd out of the ANA.
The amended complaint states that the culmination of Kiick’s and Beeton’s efforts was a 15-page memorandum they submitted to Sirna and that this memorandum was used to partially justify Shepherd’s termination in 2011.
Shepherd claims that Sirna falsely accused Shepherd of exposing the ANA to a liability because “he wanted Mr. Shepherd’s job and that he was more interested in protecting himself and advancing his own career than doing what was right for ANA.”
Sirna was named general counsel in October 2007. On Jan. 11 the ANA Board announced that it had named Hollie L. Wieland, of Karp Neu Hanlon P.C., as its general counsel.
The filing states that while Shepherd was executive director, Sirna began interfering with business decisions involving contracts with auction houses. It states that Sirna made promises to Stack’s Bowers Galleries “to make a six-figure settlement even though ANA had not done anything wrong in connection with its dealings with Stack’s Bowers and neither Mr. Shepherd nor the Board had approved such settlement.”
It adds that, when Sirna became aware that the settlement offer did not have Shepherd or the ANA Board’s support, Sirna “falsely alleged that the settlement was necessary because of errors by Mr. Shepherd in dealing with Stack’s Bowers’ competitor, Heritage Auctions, even though this was completely untrue.”
Problems at the museum
The filing contends that Hallenbeck and Martin “supported and concealed thefts” from the ANA and retaliated against Shepherd for his efforts to uncover the thefts and assist law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrators.
The ANA had hired Robert K. Wittman, former head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crimes Division, to assist with the investigation in October 2010 (and the ANA Board recently announced that Wittman’s firm has again been retained by the ANA).
The filing names several former ANA employees that Shepherd alleges were connected to the ANA thefts and provides examples where Hallenbeck and Martin opposed Shepherd’s plan to implement an inventory system and security system to protect the museum against further thefts. The filing states that at the time that one former employee was suspected of stealing from the ANA, he had been renting a home from Martin at what the filing states was a “discounted rate.”
The filing states that for his first act as ANA president after being installed on Aug. 20, 2011, “Hallenbeck berated Mr. Shepherd in front of members of the public and the press for spending $6,000 on the investigation without Board approval,” adding, “Shepherd was not required to receive approval for expenditures of this amount, and Mr. Hallenbeck was aware of this fact.”
The memo is distributed
Much of the filing centers on actions that took place immediately before and during the 2011 ANA World’s Fair of Money in Chicago.
The filing states that on Aug. 8, 2011, the memorandum that Kiick and Beeton prepared was distributed to the board. Shepherd cites, among the memo’s allegedly false statements, accusations that he created an atmosphere of favoritism, age discrimination, sexual harassment and questionable management practices that left many staff members “withered, beaten, demoralized and depressed.”
Shepherd alleges in the amended complaint that the memorandum, even though it enjoyed wide distribution to the board and ANA staff, was not provided to Shepherd and that Shepherd “was told that his employment was not being terminated based on anything ‘bad.’ But simply because the ANA was going in a different direction.”
Shepherd claims that on Aug. 16, 2011, at the Chicago ANA show he saw Kiick step into a meeting that was supposed to be for board members only and that she met with the board privately for approximately two hours.
The filing states that on Aug. 30, the ANA made its first allegation that Shepherd had been terminated for cause, stating that Shepherd “had engaged in felony bid-rigging by coaching Heritage on how to write a bid and by accepting the bid after the deadline.” Shepherd claims that Sirna told him that he “had him” on felony charges of bid-rigging and that this would be used to hold back severance. The filing states that on Aug. 31, 2011, Sirna told Shepherd that if he did not agree to a lower severance, that Sirna “would ruin Mr. Shepherd’s reputation and would also ruin him financially.”
Shepherd claims that as a result of these actions and the “false and defamatory statement published by ANA,” that his “professional reputation has been substantially and irreparably harmed and his standing in the numismatic community diminished.”
The filing requests a jury trial with an award of compensatory damages, punitive damages and an injunction that prevents the defendants from publishing false and defamatory statements concerning Shepherd.
The full amended complaint can be found posted by Coin World at http://bit.ly/Zwtx7q. ■