Cenotaph Artist Pompeo Coppini’s Trust, Academy Victimized by $216K Embezzlement

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The Coppini Academy of Fine Arts was constructed in 1936 to house the commissioned project of the Alamo Cenotaph.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The Coppini Academy of Fine Arts.

A former board member of the Coppini Academy of Fine Arts allegedly embezzled $216,000 from the small nonprofit organization, according to documents and several people who have been associated with the academy.

The Coppini Academy of Fine Arts is the legacy of Pompeo Coppini, best known locally as the artist behind the Cenotaph monument in Alamo Plaza. The academy, housed in the artist’s former studio in Olmos Park, is dedicated to Coppini’s legacy and his mission of teaching figurative art through workshops and classes.

The San Antonio Area Foundation, which administers the Pompeo Coppini Trust, requested an investigative audit of the academy in August 2017 that was completed in June. The findings indicated financial fraud occurred from 2012 to 2016, according to documents obtained by the Rivard Report.

The audit named former board member Walter Charles “W.C.” Wagnon as a “suspect entity” in the embezzlement. Wagnon joined the board in 2010 as treasurer, at the invitation of former board President Janice Hindes. Hindes said she was aware that Wagnon had served time for prior convictions, but he convinced her he was trustworthy.

“He was a good con man,” Hindes said of Wagnon.

According to the audit and multiple sources, Wagnon allegedly diverted funds to himself and other suspect entities, such as shell companies and a sham philanthropic organization. Additionally, documents indicate more than $50,000 was paid in 2012 directly from the Pompeo Coppini Trust to a nonprofit company called Workstation Central Ltd., which listed Wagnon as president and director in 2010.

While at the academy, Wagnon also allegedly destroyed financial and archival records, routed mail to hide financial irregularities, and made unauthorized ATM withdrawals, according to sources. The Rivard Report has granted anonymity to several people with knowledge of the situation because of its sensitivity.

Wagnon did not respond to emails and several voicemails left by the Rivard Report seeking comment.

Coppini Academy of Fine Arts President Charlotte Cox.

Scott Ball / Rivard Report

Coppini Academy of Fine Arts President Charlotte Cox.

Current board President Charlotte Cox said she discovered suspicious activity related to Wagnon in early 2017. “He had an ATM card and was making withdrawals, and I asked him to provide me documentation or receive his resignation, one or the other,” Cox said. Wagnon resigned in April 2017.

However, confronted with the results of the forensic audit at a Sept. 20 board meeting, Cox and the board declined to pursue criminal charges or legal prosecution, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. Asked if the board is considering further action, Cox said, “That’s a board decision, that’s confidential.”

Rebecca Helterbrand, the Area Foundation’s vice president for strategy and innovation, said the decision to pursue legal action or criminal charges rests solely with the Coppini Academy’s board of directors.

“It was our due diligence that realized that a forensic audit was needed, and it was our request to have that third-party forensic audit completed, and we shared those results” with the Coppini Academy board, Helterbrand said.

The Area Foundation took over the administration of the Pompeo Coppini Trust in August 2014 from Jefferson Bank, which previously administered the trust. Documentation shows that the majority of funds allegedly were embezzled in 2015-16, when $122,700 allegedly went missing.

The San Antonio Area Foundation is a community foundation that manages more than $900 million in assets for 528 funds and offers support for nonprofit organizations.

Organizations of all sizes can be vulnerable to fraud, said nonprofit consultant Marion Lee of Lee Plus Associates, who has advised nonprofit organizations for 30 years. People involved in the nonprofit sector tend to be driven by a passionate mission, she said, and “do not believe themselves vulnerable to any kind of attack, which is sad, because they are.”

Smaller nonprofits, in particular, might not institute safeguards that a corporation or business would, and “they do not put the infrastructure in place to keep them from being taken advantage of,” she said.

Though many small nonprofits tend to have limited funds to create adequate security and protections, Lee said, all “have the capacity to put into place basic oversight that can help them in the long run.

“It is incumbent upon every nonprofit organization and board to do everything reasonably in their power to safeguard funds that they are given,” Lee added.

Missing funds are often unrecoverable, she said. “It takes time and energy and money to figure out what happened, and to find out who’s the perpetrator.” 

To fund its operations, the Coppini Academy, which became a nonprofit organization in 1952, relies on donations, class and workshop fees, event fees, and regular contributions from the Pompeo Coppini Trust. The academy’s annual revenues from January to August were $77,000.

Wagnon’s signature as treasurer first appears on the academy’s 2010 federal Form 990 tax document, dated Aug. 11, 2011. The academy’s Forms 990, which are publicly available, are required by all nonprofit organizations to be filed annually. No co-signer appears on the 2010 Form 990 signed by Wagnon, whereas in previous years, the forms were co-signed by a certified tax preparer.

In subsequent years during Wagnon’s affiliation with the Coppini Academy board, the organization’s reported gross receipts fell below the $50,000 threshold the Internal Revenue Service requires for filing Forms 990, so a simpler version of the form was filed.

One person associated with the academy during the time Wagnon worked there learned that Wagnon had prior criminal convictions for check forgery and theft.

When asked if criminal background checks for staff members would be implemented in the future, Cox said, “Oh, definitely. We’ve added that to our procedure.”

Hindes said she wants legal action taken against the alleged embezzler. “I don’t know whether I’m more disappointed in him or the San Antonio Area Foundation” for not pursuing a legal remedy, she said.

However, Helterbrand said any pursuit of legal remedies is a matter solely for the Coppini Academy’s board. “It is up to the board of [Coppini Academy] directors to take any action related to the results of the forensic audit and the recommendations that have been made, so the San Antonio Area Foundation that administers the trust is not in a governance position,” she said.

When asked if the Area Foundation was providing adequate support to the academy in this situation, Cox said, “Absolutely. It’s an ongoing learning process, and we’re still building, but yes, I am very confident that we’re handling the situation, and this is not going to occur in the future.”

Cox said she hopes the academy will recover from the incident.

“Our reputation was harmed more than anything … and we’re still trying to rebuild our reputation in the community,” she said. “With public support and member support, I think we can. I think we’ve got a long road to haul … and I’m hoping the public will stand behind Coppini and help us through this.” 

31 thoughts on “Cenotaph Artist Pompeo Coppini’s Trust, Academy Victimized by $216K Embezzlement

  1. What??!! He had prior convictions and she hired him any way? Wow! Big surprise he turned around and embezzled! She is complicit. San Antonio this is ridiculous!

    • Janice Hindes met Wagnon in prison where she worked. She brought him to the board thinking he knew people who could help out the Coppini. She never told the board he was a convicted felon. Worse yet, she gave him the Treasurers job!

      • I like how the fact that Janice Hindes also had her own daughter and son in law were also paid staff… That’s a little bit fishy to me and something that is not mentioned.

        • Why those facts (if true and known to the Rivard Report) were not part of the story is poor journalism in my opinion (along with the fact she knew this guy when he was serving time in prison)!

          • Janice Hindes has no clue how to run a non- profit organization. The Coppini Academy of Fine Art is working overtime trying to correct all of her mistakes.

    • No mention of Hindes opening a competing art school a mile away from the Coppini and she worked tirelessly to destroy the Coppini with gossip. She left Wagnon to destroy the Coppini without warning anyone of his crimes.

    • Thank you Sherry for being honest in including your name.
      This is Janice Hindes and the back story.
      The Coppini was in a weak condition for years. No one wanted to serve, donate or volunteer. I gambled and lost.
      I believed Wagnon was an innocent man based on information given me by professionals who worked in the prison system. It was a new job for me, and I believed my superiors.
      He aligned himself with a powerful philanthropic Texas family who would make the Coppini great again, and the prison records and officials believed his connection. They convinced me.
      Everything I did was wrong, but not my motives.
      This was my second time to serve the Coppini. Check those records. It was some of their better ones in recent years, and that is why the board called me and asked me to serve again. I have given 5 years of my life and thousands of my dollars to its cause. Stupidity is my only crime and I am ashamed, embarrassed, sad and bewildered.
      This report most likely will not bring Wagnon to justice. It will just bring more pain to his victims. If everyone keeps gossiping, digging and making unfounded accusations, other volunteer reputations will suffer, and those who serve will cease to volunteer. There is no way to adequately apologize for this pain I have inflicted on the very organization I desired to help, but you and the world have my apology.
      I was not the only one duped. He stole from some very savvy and experienced professionals here in San Antonio as well as other gullible souls.
      Whatever you feel about me, please don’t defer it to the Coppini. It is an important part of San Antonio history and Pompeo Coppini has yet to receive his proper respect and notice here. It needs everyone’s help right now.

      • There are a lot of murderers, theifs, and rapists out there in the world. When they get caught, go to trial and are put over the flames for their crimes, most of them do what you are doing right now. They ask for forgiveness and hope people give them mercy. Unfortunately they have to answer for their crimes with some kind of punishment or others will commit those same crimes knowing there are now repercussions. The fact is you lied and deceived the board of directors and the whole Coppini membership by not informing them that Wagnon was a convicted criminal. You let a wolf into the hen house structured the hen house so the wolf could easily eat the hens and then left. Wagnon was your responsibility. You should have stayed and watched him or took him with you. You had the power. When you left, Wagnon had the power. And he used that power to steal thousands of dollars and artwork from the Coppini. You set up a chain of events which caused all these problems and you think you deserve some kind of mercy? I’m sorry that your reputation has been damaged but that is your own fault. There are a lot of people who put time and money in their church or other non profit organizations.They sacrifice their time and efforts only to have it torn apart by someone who wants to lie and deceive and have so much pride and worry about their reputation that they are scared to admit serious mistakes were made. Maybe this sounds like someone you know? You said Wagnon was a good con artist. It sounds like you both went to the same school.

        • I would like to know who this John Doe is that thinks he knows so much. I don’t think much of someone who runs off at the mouth while hiding. And, the photo of me was taken under false pretenses of doing a story about the Cenotaph, Spirit of Sacrifice. I am very disappointed in this story and the person who is taking so much joy in gossiping. Gossiping is never helpful. From statements you are making, I have a pretty good idea who you are and I hope you never step foot on Coppini property again.

          • I think this forum has gotten way off track with targeting Janice. The conversation should be about Wagnon and why no one is moving to prosecute him which should be happening immediately. If this is up to the board to decide to press charges then this is a no brainer.

    • How long have you known Janice Hindes? I have known her for YEARS during which time she worked tirelessly to support the Coppini & all the good it represented. Your conclusion is without merit. If the board made the decision not to go after Wagnon, for reasons only they can know, then what is the purpose of all of these diversionary accusations? Your talk is both cheap & distracting from the real issue, the survival of the Coppini.

    • Hi John Doe
      Mutually beneficial?
      I lost my time, my reputation, my money, an unbelievable business opportunity taking care of Coppini business instead of mine
      What was my benefit?

  2. This happens so very often when audits are not performed at least annually.
    Poor oversight and lack of exercising basic business practices. What happened to the El Centro jobs program and the embezzlement activities?

  3. There is a lot of conflicting information in regards to this report on the Coppini. There were many facts left out and Wagnon was targeted when in actuality Janice Hinds should be looked into. Janice Hindes knew that there was a potential problem hiring somebody that she supervised while he was incarcerated. She was looking for something that was beneficial to herself in the long run. I would think that this report and allegations against Wagnon would be hurting the integrity of the Coppini more than helping it.

  4. I have been a member of the Coppini Academy since my retirement from medicine almost 19 years ago and served as President for 4 years, 2003-2006. During that time, I know of no other individual who has been more committed or spent as much time and effort to make Coppini a better place to learn and practice art than Janice Hindes.

    I know that she feels terrible and realizes that she used poor judgement as she clearly outlines in her response above. The statements that she “worked tirelessly to destroy the Coppini with gossip” or “left Wagnon to destroy the Coppini” are absurd, as is the inference that she intentionally sought to benefit in any manner from this circumstance. And regarding the extraneous innuendo of nepotism, her daughter was probably the only person she could talk into filling that position for the salary offered.

    It should be noted that the majority of the replies to this article are anonymous. I generally never even read anonymous replies or comments to any article because I can give them no credibility. Any person who truly believes what they are saying should have the forthrightness to sign his/her name.

    • Just because replies are “anonymous” doesn’t mean they are not credible. So far, the majority of them have been verified to be true by Janice Hindes herself and you. Also, you have not been on the Coppini board,by your own admission, since 2006. I’m sure Janice Hindes appreciates your reply. However, can you say that you are a credible witness as to exactly what happened on that board from the time Janice Hindes took office until now?

      • You’re right, I’m just an old man. I have no right to respond to any of these allegations. I guess I don’t really know Janice after all.

        • The reply above sent October 2, at 7:23 am was not from me…….it was sent by another anonymous writer who stooped so low as to falsify my name, in this instance confirming my credibility opinion about anonymous replies.

          And with regard to the John Doe above at 2:02 am, I made no statement directly regarding knowledge of board activity……..and would not have done so even if I had been on the board. Also, regarding anonymous replies, I wrote that “I can give them no credibility”, which is a personal opinion, not a blanket statement that they are not credible.

        • Dear commenter using the names Hal, John Doe, and Another John Doe,

          We know you are commenting under multiple names and impersonating people – Stop what you’re doing immediately, stick to your actual name, and abide by our comment policy.

  5. John Doe,

    I’m pretty sure I know who you are based on the style and content of your writing, and I think you should be ashamed of yourself. If you have any real information present your name and facts. To be perfectly honest, I have lost a great deal of respect for you after seeing such cowardly and unsubstantiated mud slinging at a good person trying her best to help an organization she cares a great deal about, but who was duped by this con artist like so many others. Those of us who have known Janice for a long time are aware of how many people in the art world she has helped, as well as the fact that she would never knowingly endanger the Coppini or seek to defraud anyone.

    Scott Burdick

  6. The link above (by CC on October 2, at 2:23PM) to the “Redeem Coppini” page is only one page with a “Donate” button on it. This looks like it might be a scam, so I would give directly to Coppini itself if you want to help them, rather than paying anything via this suspicious link. If anyone from the Coppini knows more about this page, please let me know if it is legitimate or not.

    I can contact FASO if this is not legitimate, since I know the people there, and they host Susan and my website as well.

    Scott Burdick

    • Scott, this is Charlotte Cox from Coppini Academy. The link to redeem Coppini is not a scam, if people want to help they can, but I also understand if they don’t. There have been a lot of changes made at Coppini to prevent future mishaps. I do not condone the people bashing going on due to this report. I will say that I certainly hope no Coppini Member would stoop so low as to personally attack another person. As artists we should all be sensitive to others and above these antics. There is too much hate in this world and Pompeo Coppini believed that good art will save humanity. People make mistakes, including the haters responding on this forum. Coppini has a disgruntled ex board member sharing confidential information, and shame on you. This is not the actions of someone who cares to keep the Coppini legacy alive. The Coppini board makes decisions based on what is in the best interest of the Academy with the information at hand with legal council, not what is best for an individual.

      • Charlotte,

        I’ve very glad to know that the fundraising page isn’t a scam. It’s people like you who make places like the Coppini possible, so thank you for all your efforts to keep it thriving!

        Scott Burdick

  7. I have known Janice Hinds for over 25 years. I have watched her work tirelessly year after year to promote young artist, bring noted artist to San Antonio, raise money for the academy, hosts art shows, as well as wash dishes, polish silver, plant flowers, and paint walls … all for the benefit of art and artists without any personal benefit. I agree totally with Scott. Janice doesn’t merit character slander or to have her integrity questioned. “Let whomever is without sin cast the first stone”.

  8. Its a shame a legacy such as this would be destroyed and made untrustworthy by those entrusted to protect it. Why anyone would have to be basically robbed to implement criminal background checks is beyond belief. You do that ALWAYS, especially with a position such as treasurer. Always. here is no excuse for not doing it. Its mismanagement and many might find it a bit suspicious. What reason could there be to not do this and leave the Academy open to this kind of of theft? When mismanagement like this occurs those who are looked to to support and fund the organization have lost trust in its management and what will happen to their well meant donations. Can you blame them? No.

  9. I lived in the apartment at the Coppini Academy with free rent and utilities in exchange for caretaking during the 2 years I was a student at UTSA, 1990 to 1992. Marilyn Lingerfelt was president at the time and a woman named Margaret was V.P. The two of them wrested the trust fund away from the lawyer who Coppini appointed the trustee of his estate, by which time several million dollars were unaccounted for. A bank was subsequently appointed trustee. At the time, Janice Hinds had been an active figure in the affairs of the academy until Marilyn and Margaret took charge. Marilyn was succeeded as president by a retired doctor, whose name I’ve forgotten.

    So the more recent gutting of the Coppini estate is not the first time it has been seriously depleted by the unscrupulous.

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