Peninsula Symphony reports $500,000 in funds are missing

The Peninsula Symphony, a 65-year-old Los Altos-based community orchestra, has reported to police that approximately half a million dollars are missing from its endowment and operating funds.

A member of the Los Altos-based symphony’s board recently looked into the group’s account and saw that “money that was supposed to be there was not,” symphony spokesman Larry Kamer said. “It represents substantially all of the assets of the organization,” Kamer said.

Los Altos Police Department Sgt. Scott McCrossin said that the department is in the early stages of a criminal investigation into the symphony’s reported missing funds.

Kamer said that Executive Director Steve Carlton, who took the position in 2009, is no longer with the organization. His name was removed from the orchestra’s website, and as of Thursday evening, he could not be reached for comment.

The orchestra has engaged, pro bono, the law firm of Baker & McKenzie to assist with efforts to recover the missing assets. A professional accounting firm is to be employed soon to investigate the losses and help implement financial controls to protect future donations and contributions.

Kamer said there is a suspect in the funds’ disappearance, but he declined further comment.

Music Director Mitchell Sardou Klein told The San Francisco Examiner that the musicians, the board of directors and himself “were deeply shocked to learn of this horrible situation.”

“The esprit de corps of this organization is something very special, and we are a close-knit musical family, many of us with decades of dedication to this ensemble,” he said. “Even after my 29 years conducting the orchestra, there are still a large number of musicians who have been here longer than I.”

The missing money approximates a year’s operating budget.

Except for a few principal positions, the 85-member orchestra consists of unpaid volunteers, and some pay a tuition for the experience they receive in rehearsals and performances. Tax records for fiscal year 2012 show the nonprofit had an annual budget of $586,554, with salaries of $68,000 for Carlton and $64,000 for Klein.

When the theft became known internally a week ago, the board and musicians started an emergency fund drive, and pledged contributions to fund nearly half a season’s scaled-down budget. The drive, says Klein, “has guaranteed that we can honor our commitment to undertake our 65th season as planned, with some internal austerity measures.”

The season opens Oct. 25 in San Bruno’s Capuchino High School Auditorium and Oct. 26 in Cupertino’s Flint Center, featuring pianist John O’Conor and the Masterworks Chorale, followed by concerts in Stanford University’s new Bing Concert Hall on Nov. 22 and Nov. 24.

Bay City News contributed to this report.

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