Delta Foundation Changes Leaders, Pledges Audit Of Finances

Jan 13, 2020

Gary Van Horn, the longtime head of the city’s highest-profile LGBT organization, resigned this Monday, says Delta Foundation interim board president Jim Sheppard. 

Sheppard said Delta's board asked for his resignation on Friday and that Van Horn verbally agreed to step down Monday morning. Van Horn sent a two-sentence letter of resignation later in the day.

Sheppard also said the board was launching a review of its books.

“We felt that in the best interest of the foundation and of Pittsburgh Pride” – the city’s annual LGBT festival – "to have a complete separation from Mr. Van Horn.”

The leadership shift began late last year, when Van Horn was charged for impersonating a public officer. Those charges stem from his alleged use of emergency vehicle lights and a purported effort to convince police that he was given permission to do so. A preliminary hearing in that case is scheduled for February 12. Delta announced that Van Horn was taking a leave of absence the day the news broke.

Van Horn did not return a call or text for comment. But his attorney,  Phil DiLucente, said, “Gary loves the Delta Foundation, being a founding member. We believe this is the best process while he’s going through these unfounded charges because we don’t want to bring a bad light on Delta.”

DiLucente stressed that Van Horn stepped down voluntarily after a request by Delta and said, “He is going to be back on the board after he is acquitted of his current charges.” He said any suggestion of financial impropriety was “absurd. It’s a big nothingburger. There was no use that was not for the benefit of Delta Foundation, and preaching the word about the good deeds they do."

Sheppard said the board was also undertaking a thorough review of the organization’s finances, and that it had retained the law firm of Leech Tishman to review the organization’s books.

A source within Delta said that there are questions about Van Horn's ties to Thrill Watersports, a jetski rental firm in Sharpsburg. 

 

A certificate of organization filed in 2018 for Thrill Watersports LLC identifies a Shadyside address, which is the same address that Van Horn votes from, as the registered office address for the entity. When a WESA reporter called the number listed for Thrill and identified himself as a journalist, the woman who answered said that Van Horn was no longer associated with Delta: Asked about his ties to Thrill, she said, " You'd have to talk to him directly.”

 

DiLucente said he knew nothing of Thrill but reitreated as "a blanket statement" that Van Horn had done nothing wrong. 

 

Sheppard said he was not aware of any connection involving Thrill, but he said he expected "any review by Leech Tishman" to reveal any problems.  

Asked whether the board had specific financial concerns, Sheppard said only, “We’re looking into everything and reviewing everything at this point.”

Allegheny County Sheriff Bill Mullen says that Delta owes his department "real close to $12,000" for providing security during the 2018 Pittsburgh Pride event. "They wanted people dedicated to the parade [security] on an overtime basis. We did that, and he didn't pay us. We sent him a letter, got no response. I called him personally. He said the city of Pittsburgh owed us — he said there was some kind of ordinance. But we found that not to be true." 

DiLucente said he couldn't speak to Mullen's claim and said questions about the money should be directed to the current Delta board, since Van Horn was no longer part of it. 

In the meantime, Sheppard said the Pride festival itself is still scheduled to take place July 17-19. Delta board member Marty Healy will chair efforts to organize the event while Sheppard leads the foundation itself.

Van Horn has long been a controversial figure. Under his leadership, Delta has become the region’s highest-profile LGBT organization, but it has been sharply criticized for ignoring transgender people and minorities. And while Van Horn reports taking no salary from the organization, Delta’s finances have also come under scrutiny, in part due to concerns that it spends money on its signature event, the Pittsburgh Pride festival, while more urgent needs in the community go wanting.

Meanwhile, there have been demands for a fuller accounting of how Delta allocates spending that has amounted to an average of over $750,000 a year in recent years. Delta does not appear to post annual reports or other financial information online. And some publicly available records lack detail.

Delta’s 990 statements – publicly available financial filings that report activities to the IRS – have also raised questions. In a three-year period, for example, the foundation reports spending $380,405 – over 17 percent of its budget – on programming it describes only as being intended “to increase awareness and understanding of and improve the quality of life of GLBT community in the Pittsburgh region.”

This story was updated on 1/13/20 at 1:50 pm and 7:50 pm to include further reporting.