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A $5 Million Art Fraud

A suit filed in Quebec Superior Court claims that Phi Centre's former president defrauded it—and its founder Phoebe Greenberg—of some $5 million

Since its founding in 2012, the Phi Centre in Montreal has done a lot of great things: hosted a talk by Michel Gondry, organized virtual reality programming in partnership with the New York Times, and snagged the exhibition “Bjork Digital,” just to name a few.

Yet there has also been upset behind the scenes. And this fall, that trouble has come to the surface in a suit filed in Quebec Superior Court.

As reported by La Presse and the Montreal Gazette, the legal suit claims that Phi Centre’s former president Penny Mancuso defrauded the institution—and its founder Phoebe Greenberg—of some $5 million.

It’s a sum quite remarkable for fraud allegations in Canadian art circles.

Greenberg, who started out as an actor and is heir to a family fortune, might be best known for founding the DHC/ART Foundation, which is a few steps from the Phi Centre and recently celebrated its 10th anniversary of bringing leading contemporary art to the city. Highlights of the DHC’s past decade including a landmark North American show by Brits Jake and Dinos Chapman, the first Canadian survey of Ryoji Ikeda, and a solo show of American Jenny Holzer.

(The Phi Centre, founded more as “a multidisciplinary arts and culture organization…at the intersection of art, film, music, design and technology” has, along with Greenberg, declined further comment on the court filing.)

Penny Mancuso, for her part, also spent parts of her early career in acting, with roles in the films Affliction (1997), Mambo Italiano (2003) and Oceans of Hope (2001). At Phi Centre, one of her responsibilities was representing its Phi Films arm during projects like Canada at Cannes. Phi Films’ notable productions melding art and cinema include Guy Maddin and Evan Johnson’s The Forbidden Room (2015) and Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard’s 20,000 Days on Earth (2014), both of which showed at Sundance.

According to the Gazette,

Greenberg covered the majority of the costs of opening and operating the [Phi Centre] venue. Mancuso was paid $409,000 per year, according to the claim cited by La Presse, on top of which Greenberg gave her an extra $200,000 per year to purchase clothing and beauty products, and paid for Mancuso’s children’s enrolment in private schools.

Last year, Phi Centre financial director Michel Bérubé noticed irregularities while going through the books. Of particular concern was $500,000 Mancuso had spent on clothing over the previous 13 months using Phi Centre credit cards.

Mancuso was let go in April, with Greenberg initially agreeing to pay her three years of salary as compensation, beginning with an initial payment of $407,000. That all changed when it was discovered Mancuso had diverted $5.2 million from the Phi Centre between 2014 and 2017, via credit card payments to herself or her husband, Bayard Whittall, and his company, Two Monster Exotics.

Greenberg is seeking repayment of the $407,000 already paid to Mancuso as part of her departure package, plus the $5.2 million taken from the Phi Centre.

Mancuso’s LinkedIn profile, which still mentions her past position at Phi, describes her as “currently exploring opportunities.” The Facebook page for her husband Bayard Whittall’s business Two Monsters Exotics, which specializes in captive breeding of boas, is no longer available, and calls to its Miami phone number have gone unanswered.

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