Clarke Howatt, the former Association of Bay Area Governments employee indicted for wire fraud tied to $1.3 million in stolen bond money, commissioned a $24,000 sculpture and then refused to fully pay for it, according to an art gallery owner who worked with him.
Howatt first contacted the gallery in September, according to emails and a contract reviewed by the San Francisco Business Times. Howatt was classmates at Westmont College in Santa Barbara with Laird Hovland, the Santa Fe-based artist of the sculpture, said Bonney.
The sculpture was designed to complement a $1.5 million mansion in Oregon that Howatt purchased shortly after he allegedly embezzled the funds from Finance Authority for Nonprofit Corporations, an independent affiliate of ABAG.
"He was looking for artwork for this home. We started at that point sharing ideas. He sent pictures and video of the home. It took about six weeks," said Bonney.
"I think it's going to be great, either out front or out back on the patio," Howatt wrote in an Oct. 3 email to Bonney. "Also, about the smaller size 'eye'. Did you say he would refinish, or make another in a different finish and color. I'm wondering about the proportion of the big on to the back patio I guess."
Howatt also shared his wine preferences during an email exchange with Bonney as they discussed shipping rates for the sculpture.
"And if you ever can, choose an Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Gris. Quite similar. My favorite,"Howatt wrote in an October email.
Bonney said Howatt stopped communicating with the gallery for months. Then, two weeks ago, Howatt cancelled the commission with a text message to the artist.
"Laird. I'm sorry but it looks like I'm gonna have to break our deal and not take delivery of your fine sculpture. You can bill me for the 2nd half, but I won't be able to pay it. Best just pocket the deposit and sell the piece elsewhere for full price. I'm really sorry," Howatt wrote, according to a copy of the message provided by Bonney to the Business Times
Bonney tried to give Howatt more time to make the payment and didn't want to sue him, but he wasn't willing to negotiate, she said. "I tried really to be amenable with him and he said, 'Just sell it to somebody else,'" said Bonney. "He was very dismissive of it."
Bonney said she wasn't aware of Howatt's wire fraud allegations until she searched for his name on Google on Tuesday. She wants to return the money if it's stolen and has contacted the San Francisco District Attorney.
"I've owned a gallery for 15 years and that never happens," said Bonney, who moved her gallery to Santa Fe from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina.
"It makes sense now. It wasn't his money," she said. "If someone was backing out, they would fight for the deposit."
EDITOR'S NOTE: At least the gallery owner has a sense of civic responsibility and wishes to return the stolen money. Will a new charge for conspiracy for theft be added to the charges?