"My Fair Share"

Those are John S. Carter words in a long, rambling, bizarre and sad letter he wrote to the court seeking leniency in his sentencing for looting the Independence Seaport Museum. (John S Carter Oct 17 2007 letter to court)

According to an article in today’s (Oct. 22, 2007) Philadelphia Inquirer (Seaport’s Carter asks for leniency), relatives have provided letters of support and the ex-museum head “can hardly believe” his own admitted criminality. Carter suffered a heart attack on Friday which has postponed his day in court.

According to the Inquirer, in the October 17,2007 letter, Carter’s claims:

  • Board members and donors used the museum’s resources to get boats for their own use, even docking them at their “private marinas.”
  • No-bid contracts went to the firms of board members for insurance, legal work, and a multimillion renovation job.
  • Board members used the museum to store their personal artworks and artifacts – and tapped the staff to care for them.

Justifying his criminal activity, Carter wrote “at some point I began to feel that I should be getting my fair share.”

Of course, these counter accusations are from an admitted criminal on his way to jail so they should be taken with a grain of salt.

I’ve written about this before (here, here, here, here, here and here with thankfully some good news here). As a former nonprofit CEO, it blows my mind that a nonprofit executive could engage in such self dealing for so long. I have wondered where the museum board and senior staff were when all of this was going on; especially since the museum had been under federal investigation since 2004. (Seaport Museum Finances on the Rocks – Inquirer – March 21, 2004). According to his letter to the court, Carter claims to have continued to receive sizable bonuses as recent as December 2006 which if true would seem to indicate that the board was “asleep at the wheel” as he claims. I have never been and hope never to be involved in a federal investigation but I can’t comprehend how the Independence Seaport Museum was embroiled in one since at least 2004 and all of this was still going on.

This is truly a sad story. But it’s also a valuable one to anyone interested in studying leadership.

I hope that the new executive director, Lori Dillard Rech, is able to navigate the Independence Seaport Museum through this unfortunate squall and chart a proper course for the future. Godspeed.

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

4 thoughts on “"My Fair Share"”

  1. Looks like the USS Olympia could be paying the price for years of corruption at the museum. I wonder how she’d be doing if the museum was managed by people who cared.

  2. Sorry to take so long to comment. I knew John Carter in Stonington, ME, in the late 70s and went on to work for him as development director at the Maine Maritime Museum from 1983-89.

    During that time he transformed from a hard working, successful, visonary leader to a person of greed who became incapable of telling the truth about almost anything. I finally resigned in 1989 rather than continuing to work for him.

    He proves the adage: too much is never enough (that’s my adage anyway). He was more amoral than immoral, but the effect eventually became the same. I’m sorry John is going to spend his old age in jail, but that’s probably the best place for him at this point.

  3. Mr. Comtois;

    Thanks for visiting and providing your perspective on this tragic story for which clearly there are no winners.

    There can be a multitude of perspectives and opinions on stories like these; my real interest rests in the leadership angle. I have wondered in writing on more than one occasion what the museum’s board and senior executives were doing when all of this was going on. As a former nonprofit ceo, I just can’t imagine how what Mr. Carter was sentenced for could have taken place without tacit approval of the board. A claim of innocence by the board can only lead to a conclusion of their complete dereliction of duty.

    It’s a sad story for all involved.

    Thanks again for sharing your thoughts here and good luck and lots of success at the NH Museum of Aviation History.

  4. I’ve known John Carter since he and I were together at the University of Delaware in 1978-79. We’ve remained in contact since then and I was one of his many friends and colleagues who wrote letters of support to the court looking for leniency.

    In my experience John was always a straight up guy
    and was shocked and saddened by what happened in Philadelphia. John and I have been e-mailing each other since the news first broke. There are mitigating circumstances involved and I think that, despite John’s guilt, he is not the evil demon portrayed by the prosecution or the press and I also think he got a very raw deal. I was also surprised to learn (in the press) that Karen was divorcing him. This has to be hell on his family, especially his daughter.

    Given the help John has given me over the years with my musuem career, I feel terrible about this and wish there was something I could do to help him. Unfortunately, I don’t think there is.


    George S. Comtois
    New Hampshire Museum of Aviation History

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