LACMA Board Member Resigns Amid Outcry Over Investment in Prison Phone Company

LACMA Board Member Resigns Amid Outcry Over Investment in Prison Phone Company

Tom Gores, a trustee at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, has resigned from the institution’s board after activists called for him to step down over concerns related to his financial firm’s investment in Securus Technologies, a company that has faced controversy over the way it manages the phones services it provides to prisons. Gores had been a trustee at the museum since 2006.

In a letter to LACMA CEO and director Michael Govan made public on Thursday on the website of Platinum Equity, for which Gores works as chairman and CEO, Gores wrote that, while he had committed to reforming Securus’s business practices, other LACMA board members had raised concerns. “My decision to step away from the board is based on relieving LACMA of any further distraction,” he wrote, “and ensuring that the transformation work at Securus, and in all of our businesses, continues to move forward with vigor and passion.”

In the same letter, Gores wrote, “Each of us has a choice to step up and face hard truths about race and justice that boiled over this summer but have simmered in our country for generations. I choose to step up and address these issues out loud and out front, as I always have across all of my business and personal interests.”

Securus Techologies, which Platinum Equity acquired for $1.6 billion, has been criticized for charging premiums for calls made by inmates. The practice led to a Federal Communications Commission investigation into how the prices for such calls are regulated. And in 2018, the New York Times reported that Securus was able to track people’s cellphones and had done so, sometimes without a court order. (Securus has claimed that the tracking was conducted legally.)

Activists have alleged that Securus’s practices should not be permissible and that, because Platinum Equity bought a stake in Securus in 2017, he should be removed from the LACMA board. Calling him a “prison profiteer,” leaders at the activist organizations Worth Rises and Color of Change said in a letter to Govan that Gores had engaged in the “deliberate exploitation of Black, Brown, and economically distressed communities.”

Board members at major U.S. museums have come under fire in recent years for their business dealings, but few such situations have resulted in resignations. The most notable departure of a trustee amid controversy involved Warren B. Kanders, who left the Whitney Museum’s board in 2019 after activists and artists protested his ownership of Safariland, a defense manufacturing company that produces tear-gas canisters that have been used against refugees along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Larry Fink, a board member at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, has been protested for his company Blackrock’s investments in GEO Group and CoreCivic, which operate private prisons. Protesters have demanded that he divest from  companies of the sort.

In a statement, Govan said, “We’re very grateful to Tom, not only for his generosity and support over more than a decade, but also for this additional gesture of support for LACMA right now.”


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