(new updates found below, this is an ongoing investigation)
After an exhaustive investigation, a cover-up by Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer’s administration has been exposed involving the $175,000 sculpture, falloffstone, by artist Peter Shelton.
When confronted earlier today with new information obtained exclusively by myself, Dyer’s top city officials finally changed their long-held story about what happened to this mysterious missing sculpture. It turns out, the sculpture was never missing or stolen after all – and now Dyer’s administration has admitted it.
Back in February 2013, city officials made the news claiming the valuable sculpture was stolen and likely scrapped by metal thieves. “Regretfully, a metal thief went in with a saw and cut it away,” Orlando’s risk manager Ray Scullian told the Orlando Sentinel in 2013. “Unfortunately, like a lot of other things around town…they just get taken and sold for scrap.”
The Dyer administration even told WESH News in 2013, “During last year’s inventory it was discovered that part of the Falloffstone piece was discovered missing. We notified police and filed a report.”
And that was the end of the story according to the City of Orlando. Until today.
During my investigation spanning several months, I obtained information from city employees that did not add up to the official story being pushed by the Dyer administration publicly. Following tips and leads, I attempted to confront Leu Gardens Director Robert Bowden, who also oversees art for the city, about his knowledge of what really happened to the sculpture. Several weeks ago when I first spoke with Mr. Bowden on the phone, he immediately directed me to “legal counsel” and city attorney Amy Iennaco when I brought up the missing sculpture. That was a major red flag.
Today, with new information directly linking Bowden to knowledge of the true fate of the sculpture, I attempted to reach him again at Leu Gardens, but he did not return my call. Instead, city spokesperson Cassandra Lafser did contact me regarding the sculpture, on behalf of city attorney Iennaco. Lafser inquired about the information I obtained regarding falloffstone and requested I share it with the city. I declined and made further public records requests.
When I previously reached out to artist Peter Shelton during the investigation, he was still upset and seeking answers to the mysterious theft of his sculpture.
“It really wasn’t ever a donation, now there’s a destruction,” Shelton told me. Shelton says he only donated his $175,000 sculpture to the City of Orlando if the city displayed it for public use, which the city never did. Based on a previous agreement, the City of Orlando is also required to maintain the falloffstone sculpture to museum-quality standards.
The city also never filed an insurance claim at the time, even though the art piece was insured. According to the 2013 Orlando Sentinel article, the city provided an excuse for why no insurance claim was filed. The excuse is now proven to be a lie. “The city has had the piece insured for $175,000 since it came to Orlando. But officials don’t plan to file a claim because the policy carries a $10,000 deductible,” the article stated at the time.
But I had information stating otherwise and the city knew it. After several hours, before close of business today, city spokesperson Lafser sent me an email revealing more publicly about the situation in writing – and officially changing the city’s story.
“In response to your specific questions, the City did not file an insurance claim because after further investigation by the City’s risk management department, it was determined that the sculpture had been damaged by a City employee who was instructed to clean up the area where it had been stored,” Lafser’s email stated.
Despite two and a half years of claiming an unsolved crime at a city storage lot by “metal thieves” with no outreach to the owner and artist of the sculpture or any effort to restore the damaged art, the City of Orlando, under pressure of being caught in their own web of lies, finally began revealing the truth behind the missing sculpture. But, there’s still more to this story that needs to be known.
All along, senior officials in the Dyer administration knew what really happened to the sculpture because a crew was ordered to go to the city-owned storage lot. The “metal thieves” story was a distraction, and in reality, Dyer’s administration kept the art piece in city storage the entire time and never planned on displaying it publicly before its destruction. “I tried to get it reinstalled at one time, but Risk Management said it wasn’t a good idea,” city public art coordinator Paul Wenzel told the Sentinel after the destruction.
There are still additional questions about more senior Dyer administration officials’ involvement and knowledge of the incident. There are also serious questions about the City of Orlando Records Department and the sunshine law related to public records requests I have made on this matter based on conflicting information being provided by city employees and now, the admission of the city that the city is indeed responsible for the destruction of the falloffstone sculpture. And why hasn’t the City of Orlando worked with artist Peter Shelton on restoring the sculpture knowing what really happened?
This is a developing investigation. Stay tuned for breaking updates and a multi-part series covering the falloffstone sculpture.
UPDATE 1: Dyer Administration Cover-Up Deepens