Investigators Secretly Mined Munitz’s Records

Times Staff Writers

On a Saturday morning in early December, a group of outsiders dressed in jeans arrived at the J. Paul Getty Trust to carry out a secret plan: copying the computer hard drives in the offices of Chief Executive Barry Munitz without his knowledge.

The outsiders were from Munger Tolles & Olson, a Los Angeles law firm hired by Munitz’s bosses, the Getty board, to investigate allegations that senior officials had misspent the nonprofit’s funds and acquired looted antiquities.

The decision to secretly copy Munitz’s data, carried out with the help of his top aides and the approval of the board chairman, was an early sign of the extent to which Munger Tolles was willing to go to find out how deep the problems ran at the world’s richest art institution.


Confidential Getty documents reviewed by The Times and interviews with former senior officials provide a road map of the firm’s internal investigation, which led to Munitz’s ouster and ongoing negotiations with foreign governments over the return of contested artwork.

The records also show that the attorneys spent a substantial amount of time investigating Munitz’s previously unreported use of Getty funds to advance the career of a German art student whom he hired as a “senior advisor” and sponsored as an intern at another museum. They also reviewed his expenditures linked to a Russian researcher whose museum received a Getty grant.

The Getty has declined to disclose whether those expenditures were deemed appropriate. Munitz, through his lawyer, said he was a mentor to both women, as he has been to “students, colleagues and future leaders” over the last 40 years.

“Given these facts, nothing about these professional relationships had anything to do with my decision to resign,” Munitz said.

Munitz resigned in February, less than a week after Munger Tolles delivered its findings to the board. He agreed to forgo more than $2 million in severance pay and return $250,000 to settle all claims with the trust.

Munger Tolles has billed the Getty more than $4 million for the review led by Ron Olson, the firm’s top corporate trouble-shooter. The money comes on top of $6 million the Getty has spent on lawyers, investigators and public relations specialists over the last five years to disentangle itself from a web of scandals and crises, records show.


Getty officials have not made the results of the Munger Tolles review public, saying it would not be in the interest of the institution, which is still being investigated by the state attorney general and foreign governments.

But the Getty records show that Olson’s team spent hours researching the legal exposure of current trustees, who were responsible for overseeing Munitz’s compensation and travel.

The attorneys also researched “moral turpitude,” a legal term that experts say describes deceit for personal gain and other crimes such as fraud and perjury.

Munitz’s contract stipulated that the Getty could terminate his employment for any conduct that “constitutes moral turpitude, or that would tend to bring material public disrespect, contempt or ridicule upon the trust.”

Through his attorney, Munitz said that “the moral turpitude clause in my contract was never raised with me.”

Olson, in a recent interview, said he had made “a complete report … of the essence of our findings” to the state attorney general’s office, which is expected to conclude its own probe of Getty spending in the coming weeks. He added it would be wrong to draw inferences about what the attorneys researched. “Just because we investigate facts or assess legal exposure does not equate to, or even suggest, wrongdoing,” he said.


With the attorney general beginning its probe and Munitz under fire for using Getty funds on lavish first-class travel and other questionable purposes, the Getty board hired Olson a year ago to conduct an internal review. Louise Bryson, the board’s current chairwoman and a longtime Olson friend, played a key role in the decision, sources say.

Olson billed the Getty $690 per hour and led a team of more than two dozen attorneys, staff and consultants, records show. The lawyers examined hundreds of thousands of documents, interviewed 75 people and even flew to Rome to interview Marion True, the Getty’s former antiquities curator now on trial there on charges of conspiring to traffic in looted art.

The attorneys also reviewed 230 trips taken by Munitz from January 1998, when he became the trust’s chief executive, through July 2005. They singled out several where Munitz’s business justification was weak or where he added official events to trips that originated as vacations with friends, records show.

Those flagged as problematic were cruises to Cuba, Greece, Croatia and Albania with Los Angeles billionaire and philanthropist Eli Broad and others. Other trips included those to Australia, Hawaii and Italy.

Munger Tolles also found that Munitz charged the Getty for three stays in 2004 at the luxurious La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, where he often vacationed.

Munitz justified charging the trips to the Getty by saying he was conducting a site visit for an upcoming Getty board meeting. But there was no evidence that he had meetings with resort officials, records show.


“Every trip I took was fully documented, completely disclosed, reviewed, approved and subject to internal and external audits at multiple levels,” Munitz said, adding that he “carefully allocated between personal and institutional expenses.”

The most sensitive part of the investigation centered around the two women Munitz said he mentored, said one former trustee familiar with the internal review.

One, Iris Mickein, a German art student, was an intern at the Getty Research Institute in 2002. Records and interviews show that soon after she met Munitz, he offered to fund her next year of studies and hired her as a “senior advisor.”

Munitz repeatedly used Mickein as the business justification for trips, including an $11,000 excursion in August 2002 to Kassel, Germany, where his sole business purpose was to view an art exhibit with her. On a later trip to New York, Munitz billed the Getty for room service breakfast with Mickein, records and interviews show.

The Getty paid more than $5,000 in legal fees for her to obtain a work visa, and Munitz asked a senior curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York to mentor her for the next nine months — at Getty expense.

The request came just months after Munitz had personally approved a $1.2-million grant to MoMA on behalf of Getty trustee Aggie Gund, who was retiring as MoMA’s president. Gund says there was no connection between the gift and Mickein’s employment at the museum.


As Mickein’s internship at MoMA came to a close in early 2003, Munitz sent word to MoMA curator John Elderfield about her upcoming travel plans.

“As you probably know, we have been able to free her up during several weekends and holidays, at Getty expense of course, to meet a few of my friends and colleagues across the country,” Munitz wrote.

Mickein’s destinations included visits in Boston; Princeton, N.J.; Texas; the Midwest and the Northwest, records show. The Getty paid her travel expenses.

A few months later, when she decided to attend a summer school at the Tate museum in London, Munitz instructed staff to FedEx her a check for $8,800 to cover “the next installment of travel and expense advance.”

In July of that year, Munitz had his staff extend the agreement with MoMA for another nine months, and belatedly formalized the arrangement.

Mickein, who is a doctorate candidate at Princeton University, could not be reached for comment and did not respond to several e-mail requests.


Munger Tolles reported the Getty’s payments to MoMA for Mickein’s internship to the attorney general as a grant, according to a source familiar with the review.

“The projects to which you refer were fully discussed and approved by appropriate Getty officials,” Munitz said.

Gund, who left the Getty board at the end of June, said the information about Mickein was part of the Munger Tolles report to the board and that Munitz’s spending on behalf of the intern was particularly telling to a number of board colleagues.

“If you read it, wouldn’t you take notice of it?” Gund said. “Look at it as if you were one of the board members, and you’ll have your answer.”

The records also show that Munger Tolles attorneys spent hours researching Munitz’s interactions with Nana Zhvitiashvili, a curator for the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg who specialized in art therapy for children with limited abilities. Munitz met her at the Salzburg Seminar, an annual European event convened to discuss global issues. After Munitz met her, he arranged for the children’s center at the Russian institution to receive a $200,000 Getty grant.

A Getty spokesman last week confirmed the multiyear grant and said Zhvitiashvili helped arrange it as an “intermediary” for the Russian museum, but was not involved in administering the money.


In February 2003, Munitz dictated an e-mail to Zhvitiashvili, telling her that she “should be proud and excited about what you have given birth to on behalf of international relations, art education and therapy,” according to records of his dictation.

That same month, he arranged to meet Zhvitiashvili on a business trip to London, where he was forging a partnership between the Getty and the Courtauld Institute of Art, records show.

Munitz cleared hours off his schedule so he could be available as she rushed to put the finishing touches on a conference at the Tate on “Russian Modern Art in the Age of Globalization,” records show.

“I have put aside the evening to attend your meetings and provide sustenance and comfort,” he dictated in a series of e-mails before the event, adding in another: “If at 4 in the morning any of those nights you need just a quiet moment to exchange thoughts or to escape, that refuge is available.”

The meeting was one of several he had with the curator during 2002 and 2003 business trips to London, where she lives part-time, records and interviews show. On one trip, he visited the Tate museum and went to a movie with her; on another, they attended a concert, records show.

Repeated attempts to reach Zhvitiashvili directly or through friends were unsuccessful. She did not answer several e-mails, and calls to her London cellphone number were not answered.


Though the expenditures on behalf of Mickein and Zhvitiashvili were particularly sensitive, former trustee Gund said it was the totality of what the investigation turned up that made it clear Munitz had to go. “I think it was the whole package for most people,” she said.



Recent Turmoil at the Getty Trust Has Been Costly

In addition to $4 million paid to the Los Angeles law firm of Munger Tolles & Olson to conduct an internal management review at the J. Paul Getty Trust, the Getty has paid more than $2 million to a New York law firm, Heller Erhman White & McAuliffe, to advise it on how best to respond to allegations that the Getty has acquired dozens of ancient artifacts removed illegally from Italy.

Records show the Getty has spent $1.7 million on the defense of former antiquities curator Marion True, now on trial in Italy on charges of conspiring to traffic in looted art.

The Getty also spent $780,000 for a year’s advice from public relations specialist Michael Sitrick.