Inspector general rules Park Service employee violated regs in complex art deal

Inspector general rules Park Service employee violated regs in complex art deal
© NPS photo via Facebook

A National Park Service (NPS) official who bought art for the visitor center at South Carolina’s Kings Mountain National Military Park orchestrated the purchase so that the artist would avoid having their wages garnished to pay back taxes.

The transaction centered around a $39,000 painting of the park by a local artist and was flagged in a Friday report from the Interior Department's Office of Inspector General for not following the agency’s procedures.

Rather than buy the painting directly from the artist, the park purchased it from an outside association tied to the park, the Overmountain Victory Trail Association.

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“After conflicting statements and denials about his role in the purchase, the official told us during his second interview that he created the entire process by which the painting was purchased through the friends group,” the report says.

“He said that it was his idea to use the friends group as the ‘purchase broker’ so that the NPS would buy the painting from the friends group rather than from the artist,” the report continued. “He developed this plan after the artist told him that he was unwilling to sell the painting directly to the NPS due to his tax predicament.”

The artist didn’t want to sell the painting through regular channels after 40 percent of his wages were garnished in a 2014 painting sale.

Under the agreement, the Overmountain Victory Trail Association. would keep $4,000 for their role in the transaction, the artist would get $30,000, and the remaining $5,000 would be paid to another group to settle a prior debt owed by the artist.

The Park Service employee structured the sale that way to avoid having to engage in a competitive bidding process for the painting. The artist told investigators it was the NPS official who suggested paying the Overmountain Victory Trail Association for their role in the transaction.  

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of South Carolina declined to prosecute. The NPS official is still employed by the agency which is "weighing appropriate actions in response to the OIG's findings," a spokeswoman said.

CORRECTION: The art in question was purchased from the Overmountain Victory Trail Association. An earlier version of this story included incorrect information.