A charity set up by controversial photographer Robert Mapplethorpe has paid off handsomely for its largest beneficiary: the foundation's president. Michael Ward Stout, a Manhattan lawyer who heads the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation and estate, has raked in $2.2 million from the nonprofit for his firm since 1998 - more than the total $2 million the charity has shelled out in grants in the same period, tax records show. Stout has run the charity since the famed New York lensman - whose sexually erotic and explicit shots sparked massive controversy at exhibits in the 1990s - died of AIDS complications in 1989.
As president, Stout doesn't draw a salary, according to IRS tax forms. However, his Manhattan law firm, Stout & Thomas, collects massive fees from the charity, which is funded by Mapplethorpe's estate. Stout, a longtime friend of Mapplethorpe, was executor of the artist's $200 million-plus estate. The foundation's goals are to help support the arts and to fund AIDS charities and research. Stout's fees first came under scrutiny nearly a decade ago. Oliver Koppel, the state attorney general at the time, questioned the millions Stout drew in fees while the lawyer acted as both Mapplethorpe's executor and the attorney for the foundation. After Koppel's probe, Stout wound up being allowed to draw $3.7 million in executor fees and $1.9 million as the estate lawyer.
Today, Stout says his firm's take from the foundation is "legitimate, as it always has been." The large fees "may look like a lot," he said, because they represent work for both the charity arm and the estate, under the 2003 move that combined the two entities as one nonprofit. "The charity does not have a lot of liquid assets," said Stout, so it doesn't make large cash payouts. Stout said his fees largely reflect what his firm draws to run the estate, which includes 14 galleries. "The majority of our fees are related to running the estate business, not the nonprofit," he said. "Unfortunately, there is no way to show that breakdown on the 990s [IRS tax forms]." email@example.com