Former Art Gallery of Calgary CEO charged with fraud

Police have charged a former Art Gallery of Calgary CEO with multiple counts of fraud after nearly $500,000 was taken from the organization.

Statement of claim alleges $497,586 diverted by falsifying gallery expenses

Police have charged a former Art Gallery of Calgary CEO with multiple counts of fraud after nearly $500,000 was taken from the organization.

Valerie Anne Cooper, 56, was charged Wednesday with six counts of fraud over $5,000 and one count each of theft under $5,000, mischief, obstruction and falsifying documents.

According to a civil claim filed in Alberta Court of Queen's Bench, the Calgary gallery put Cooper on paid administrative leave on March 13 after its board was notified Calgary police were investigating Cooper for the misappropriation of gallery funds.

Former Art Gallery of Calgary CEO Valerie Cooper, 56, is charged with multiple counts of fraud after almost $500,000 was taken from the organization. (Google)

The latest charges come after a nine-month police investigation. It began after witnesses came forward with allegations the gallery had been defrauded of a substantial sum of money. 

The loss to the AGC is believed to be more than $438,000.

Statement of claim

According to the statement of claim against Cooper, the Art Gallery of Calgary alleges she diverted $497,586 for her personal use, by falsifying expenses between 2006 and 2012.

Those expenses allegedly included payments on her downtown condo, unauthorized travel, a loan to the gallery from Cooper for $124,000 that was repaid but never existed in the first place, massages, credit card fees, clothing and home maintenance and $184,000 for art purchased and framed but never received by the gallery.

"The Board received constant reports from the defendant [Cooper] that the plaintiff [the gallery] was in dire financial straits and from time to time other members of the board did in fact make personal loans, without interest, to the plaintiff [the gallery] to cover operating expenses pending receipt of grant funds," reads the statement of claim.

The documents say the board relied on Cooper to run the gallery and board members didn't, and had no reason to, suspect Cooper was misappropriating funds.

It was only when approached by Calgary police that they did an internal audit of the art gallery's finances, and discovered $497,586 was missing.

Cooper hired, dismissed from Kelowna art centre

After Cooper was put on administrative leave from the Art Gallery of Calgary, she applied and was awarded the position of general manager at the Rotary Centre of the Arts in Kelowna, B.C.

A day afterwards, the Rotary Centre hiring committee withdrew its job offer after learning Cooper was being sued by her former employer.

The Rotary Centre's governing board said it was shocked to learn of the lawsuit against Cooper, having interviewed her in person and checked references before offering her the job.