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Smithsonian Official Resigned In Wake of Ethics Probe

Pilar O'Leary, seen on the cover of Washington Life, kept a high social profile during her Smithsonian tenure.
Pilar O'Leary, seen on the cover of Washington Life, kept a high social profile during her Smithsonian tenure. (Washington Life - Washington Life)
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O'Leary reimbursed the Smithsonian $2,066, Smithsonian spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas said.

Part of the reimbursement was for expenses during a trip to Spain for which O'Leary had been paid $1,028 in cash by another organization for meals and expenses. When she returned, she submitted a Smithsonian expense voucher for $1,242 but did not deduct the money she'd received from the sponsoring organization.

O'Leary also repaid the Smithsonian for the cost of moving white plastic furniture to her home in an unusual episode. O'Leary had donated the furniture to the institution and stored it in the Arts and Industries Building. When the dilapidated structure was shut down, she hired movers to cart the furniture back to her home and billed the institution.

The report concluded that O'Leary exceeded per diem rates on 23 out of 24 trips and had charged a total of $26,797 for 20 trips in 2006.

O'Leary traveled frequently to Miami, New York and Los Angeles. "O'Leary was very particular about her lodging, normally insisting that she booked at a Conrad, Ritz Carlton or Four Seasons, even if they did not offer a government rate," the report said, citing sources and documents. "There were also times when O'Leary would refuse to stay at a hotel offering the government rate or a comparable rate."

For example, during a December 2006 stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles, she charged $335 for expenses at the upscale spa Rikrak.

When her resignation was announced in an e-mail in January, Richard Kurin, the acting under secretary for history and culture, did not mention ethical lapses and praised her work developing "partnerships with scores of cultural organizations in the United States and across the hemisphere."

On Monday, Acting Secretary Cristián Samper said in a second e-mail to staff that O'Leary had "engaged in behavior that violated our Standards of Conduct and other Smithsonian policies between August 2005 and September 2007."

Samper said such reports are not always public, but Ryan determined O'Leary "held a position of such significant responsibility and public visibility that disclosure . . . was warranted."

The circumstances of O'Leary's solicitation of tickets is unclear because the names and companies of the people who provided the tickets are blacked out in the report. Among the events for which O'Leary attempted to get free tickets were the Billboard Latin Music Conference and Awards, the Latin Grammys and the Radio City Music Hall Christmas show featuring the Rockettes. She also accepted free tickets for concerts in Miami.

O'Leary said the tickets "were not personal gifts to me." She said, "I often asked those organizations to provide me and my staff with the opportunity to attend Latino cultural and media events in order to engage in important networking and outreach opportunities."

An Oct. 31, 2006, e-mail sent by O'Leary indicates she sought tickets to the Latin Grammys from someone who might have business before the institution. "We should definitely find ways to collaborate, we do a lot of evens as I am sure [name blacked out] has told you," O'Leary wrote. "I am desperate for Latin Grammy tix -- I have been invited to a bunch of vents surrounding the actual awards, let me know if you know how I could possibly get 2!"

In February 2007, O'Leary and her staff also went to Los Angeles to attend a party after the Grammy Awards, but waited until the last minute to book rooms. Before departing, O'Leary rejected a government rate at the Millennium downtown and insisted on staying in Beverly Hills, the report said. She made reservations at three different hotels before finally settling on two hotels over two nights, one costing $510 per night. When Smithsonian financial officers asked for a justification, she sent an e-mail saying, "You can say that Hollywood is going to be more convenient for meetings."

The report found that prices of the hotel rooms were often steep because they had been made at the last minute. When an investigator asked why this occurred, O'Leary said her corporate contacts "often don't realize that we aren't as flexible in making our travel arrangements as they are." She then cited cultural differences, saying that the center's Latino constituency "doesn't operate in the same time frames everyone else is used to -- in many Latin cultures, arrangements are made at the last minute."

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