The instrumentalists, who are members of Local 12 of the American Federation of Musicians, are owed about $17,000. They are listed as creditors with “priority unsecured claims” in the Chapter 7 bankruptcy documents filed March 30.
The filing lists $301,757.91 in assets and total liabilities of $273,729.51.
While it would appear as if the company has enough assets to pay off its liabilities – and then some – by far the largest listed asset is a “possible claim against former directors Ron Eichman and Thi Nguyen; and New Win Productions, LLC for diversion of assets according to Matthew Buckman, prior Executive Director.” The estimated amount is $283,000.
Eichman and Nguyen, who left the company in 2014, filed a defamation suit March 7 against Buckman and the company’s current board. The lawsuit stems from a series of allegations made by Buckman and the current board against Eichman and Nguyen’s prior leadership of the company. Those allegations, which included financial irregularities, conflicts of interest and improper corporate governance, were made public when Fresno Grand Opera self-reported itself in June to the state attorney general.
Trudi G. Manfredo, the attorney handling the bankruptcy for Fresno Grand Opera, explained that any possible assets have to be disclosed when filing. It’s up to the bankruptcy trustee, in this case Robert Hawkins, to investigate whether the listed asset is worth pursuing.
Board president Richard Jennings said it is his understanding that the $283,000 figure was submitted to the board’s insurance company a year and a half ago and that the claim was denied.
If the $283,000 asset doesn’t materialize, that will leave the opera company with a little more than $25,000 in assets, mostly in office furniture ($2,847.50), office fixtures ($4,739.60) and opera collectibles ($7,587.10).
Fresno Grand Opera shut down after January’s “Our Town,” capping a turbulent few weeks of cash-flow issues and the departure of key artistic personnel.
“It’s unfortunate,” Jennings said. “We’ve lost a lot of sleep over this. We couldn’t see any other way out. It just wasn’t working.”
Some people who worked on “Our Town” were paid. Jennings said it was his understanding that principal singers in “Our Town” were paid. Their names are not on the list of creditors. (Jennings says he has not been able to contact Matthew Buckman, the general director of Fresno Grand Opera who resigned after “Our Town,” since the bankruptcy filing.)
Geoff Bernardi, a member of the stagehands union (the International Association of Theatrical Stage Employees), says he and his fellow members were paid March 22.
But members of the Fresno Grand Opera chorus, listed as “independent contractors,” are designated as creditors with “nonpriority unsecured claims” in the filing.
Bankruptcy law designates “wages” as a priority claim, which explains why the orchestra musicians are at the top of the list. The chorus members, as independent contractors, don’t fall into that category.
Ryan Murray, the company’s music director and “Our Town” conductor, has one of the largest claims: $12,375.00.
Other notable creditors include Buckman and the Castro Accountancy Corporation, each of which are listed as providing $30,000 loans to the company.
Creditors include people who purchased tickets for performances in the future, including the May 6 production of “Of Mice and Men,” planned as a co-production with Modesto’s Townsend Opera. The production was canceled.
Jennings, the current board president, said he and other board members each contributed “four-figure sums” to pay off some of the company’s outstanding bills and bankruptcy legal fees. Manfredo received $4,500.
A meeting for creditors with questions about the process is scheduled for May 4.