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An Inspector Calls

In all the recent excitement of the FBI, IRS, and investigators from the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo raiding the Bronx offices of New York state Sen. Pedro Espada’s nonprofit, it would have been easy to overlook the problems of the New York State Theatre Institute.

In a devastating report issued on April 20 by the New York state office of Inspector General Joseph Fisch, there are serious allegations of financial malfeasance and mismanagement in the Troy-based, state-funded NYSTI, a public authority. In fact, the IG asserts that NYSTI “acted to mislead and thwart the investigation” by deliberately withholding, or denying the existence of, some requested documents.

The culmination of a nearly two-year investigation, the report is brutally direct: The IG determined that NYSTI producing director Patricia Snyder’s family were the beneficiaries of a “pattern of nepotism” that “resulted in direct payments, reimbursements and other benefits, amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars, to Snyder’s sons, daughters-in-law, and husband.”

The report paints a portrait of an organization that, whatever its artistic or educational merit, served as a personal fiefdom for director Snyder and her family—particularly Snyder, her husband William F. Snyder, son William S. Snyder, and daughter-in-law Mary Jane Hansen, who has performed in 80 percent of NYSTI’s recent productions (42 of 53), including Twelve Angry Jurors, the gender-altered version of Twelve Angry Men.

According to the IG’s report, the financial benefits to the Snyder family ranged from the grand to the modest. There are serious questions about the royalty agreements related to the popular and often-staged NYSTI production of Miracle on 34th Street. The IG claims that, by state law, the royalties should have been assigned to NYSTI, not Snyder. Snyder and NYSTI dispute this, as they do the charges of nepotism in a response issued to the press late April 20: “the reality is that the Chair and the [NYSTI] board were unaware of any ‘nepotism’ laws that would prevent the artistic director’s three family members from continuing to perform and/or serve NYSTI.”

In addition, the IG report found that NYSTI and Snyder engaged in improper spending (on meals and transportation, for starters); and that NYSTI’s internal fiscal controls failed. Patricia Snyder, the report concludes, “failed to ensure that NYSTI operate as a public entity subject to the state’s ethics rules and consistent with the fiscal responsibility expected of such a body.”

There are some particularly strange aspects of the NYSTI way of doing things detailed in the IG’s report. First, there is the matter of NYSTI’s audio books line. The report singles out the production of Hollowville, a ghost story written by Mary Jane Hansen, as a “case study” in nepotism. The audio book was executive produced by Snyder’s husband, with music and production by her son: “In all, William S. Snyder, his wife, Mary Jane Hansen, and the company he co-owns, 100% sound, were paid $7,372 for their work on Hollowville.” Bruce Dern was hired to read the story. In total, the production cost of the Hollowville audio book was $14,838. According to the report, a grand total of 30 copies of the audio book have been sold for a total of $271.

According to IG spokeswoman Kate Gurnett, the 112-page report has been forwarded to the state Commission on Public Integrity, the state comptroller, the New York State Authorities Budget Office, and the office of Attorney General Andrew Cuomo. According to the IG’s legal office, the Rensselaer County District Attorney’s office also has jurisdiction, if they wish to pursue a criminal investigation.

The effects these allegations have on NYSTI’s eventual survival are unclear. But they are not likely to have a positive effect.

—Shawn Stone

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