Police investigate Vineyard Trust 

Town attorneys question Vineyard Trust over CPC funding application.

An application concerning the Flying Horses is also in question. -Gabrielle Mannino

Updated June 15 

State and local police are investigating issues with community preservation committee funding requests made by the Vineyard Trust for restoration work at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown and Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs.

Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty and Edgartown Police Chief Bruce McNamee both confirmed the investigation with state police

“We are conducting a joint investigation,” McNamee said. “I reached out to them last week and they assigned an investigator with Detective Curtis Chandler.

Oak Bluffs Police Lt. Tim Williamson told The Times in an email that state police are handling the case.

A spokesperson for the state police could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Oak Bluffs began investigating a community preservation committee (CPC) grant application from the Vineyard Trust for restoration work on the Flying Horses carousel after issues arose with two contracting bids in the Trust’s application.

The investigation in Oak Bluffs is the latest in a string of probes related to the Trust’s applications for community preservation funds. When the irregularities were reported, the Trust board investigated, resulting in the resignation of president and CEO Funi Burdick on Wednesday. A statement from the organization confirmed that “errors” were made in grant applications to Oak Bluffs and in Edgartown for restoration work on the Old Whaling Church.

Issues began on June 4 when The Times reported that a construction quote for work to be done on the Whaling Church had been altered before being submitted as an article on the town meeting warrant requesting $175,751 in CPC funding. Those documents can be found here.

The Trust is a private nonprofit that oversees the maintenance of 20 historic properties on the Island such as Flying Horses, the Old Whaling Church, and Alley’s General Store.

Burdick joined the Trust in 2017 and oversaw a transition for The Carnegie in Edgartown into a heritage center among other projects. According to the Trust’s 990 tax form in 2019, Burdick was paid $195,000 with additional compensation of $9,000 a year.

Before her Island tenure, Burdick served as the executive director and CEO of the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire for nine years, and the executive director of the American Independence Museum in Exeter, N.H., for six years before that.

At the May 15 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs voters approved $72,300 for restoration of the carousel platform, organ, and drivetrain, replacing the exterior doors, and repairs to the roof.

Unlike Edgartown, which indefinitely postponed the Trust’s CPC request for the Whaling Church at their May 22 annual town meeting, Oak Bluffs leaders were not aware of the issue until after their town meeting. Speaking to The Times by phone, select board chair Brian Packish said while the funds were approved there was a substantive claim of fraudulent activity so the funds won’t be released.

“That’s obviously going to be frozen,” Packish said of the funds approved at town meeting. “With monies having been approved we have a fiduciary responsibility to make sure they’re vetted.”

Through a public records request, The Times received email communications between Oak Bluffs town counsel Ron Rappaport and Burdick concerning issues with the Flying Horses application.

In a June 1 email, Rappaport sent four documents to Burdick.

The first was an October 1 email from Myles Thurlow to the Trust detailing a $55,000 estimate for restoration work at Flying Horses. 

“Hope this makes sense,” Thurlow’s email reads. “Let me know if you need more details. One variable could be if we get into more of a rebuild on the carriages when we take the platform apart. I have been meaning to get over there and take a closer look, but haven’t had the chance.”

The second was a separate undated letter under letterhead from M.E. Thurlow Rigging, LLC. The letter detailed $64,750 for the same restoration work at Flying Horses.

“Hi Funi, this project is a long time coming,” the letter reads. “We first discussed the deterioration of the rounding boards and base of the platform in 2017. In my opinion, we cannot wait any longer. Here are the figures I prepared. Let me know if you have questions. One variable could be if we get into more of a rebuild on the carriages when we take the platform apart. Unforeseen rot or rigging issues will be billed on a time and materials basis.”

The second set of documents were quotes for painting the historic carousel from John C. Anderson. Both quotes are dated September 14, 2020, but the quote submitted to the Trust by Anderson is for $5,850 and the quote submitted to the town by the Trust is for $14,900 and includes replacement and painting of some exterior doors. 

Rappaport’s email asks Burdick to explain who wrote the application to the town, who came up with the revised figures, and whether Thurlow and Anderson were aware of the changes and stand behind them.

In a reply to Rappaport on June 4, Burdick said the Trust was reviewing Rappaport’s request.

“We are in the process of researching the answer to the questions you posed to me in your June 3, 2021 email to me. I intend to fully respond by the time that you return from your vacation the week after next.”

Speaking to The Times by phone Friday, Trust chairman Patrick Ahearn said the organization is working on a response to Rappaport’s email, but could not comment further. 

Anderson and Thurlow have both declined to confirm with the Times whether the bids were altered, despite the admissions by the Trust in a statement announcing Burdick’s resignation.

In a June 8 letter to the Edgartown select board, Burdick apologized for “miscommunications that have arisen as part of our application” and explained her resignation from the Trust.

“When Mr. Anderson submitted his quote, it included painting, but not all of the work necessary to complete the project according to these Department of the Interior guidelines. I acknowledge that I should have picked up the phone to clarify directly with Mr. Anderson whether he was taking into account the full scope of the work at hand and asking him to refine his estimate if necessary. Again, I sincerely apologize for the error,” her letter said in part.

“I do not want my honest mistakes to cloud an otherwise outstanding organization or its leadership. As president, I am taking full responsibility and accountability for these actions and hope you now fully understand that they were made with the trust’s best interest at heart and not out of malice or disregard to the process.”


Updated to include police investigation. — Ed.


  1. I have an idea to turn the corner on this bid-rigging investigation. Put the Tisbury Police Department in charge.
    What could possibly go wrong?

  2. What is needed is a Forensic Accountant with a sub-specialty in nonprofits. There are several fitting the bill in Boston. There are none here. It is conceivable the IRS will also get involved and do their own audit. The entire “Trust” and its practices need to be formally, publicly and professionally assessed. The Trust, as any 501(c)(3), reports directly to the IRS and no other body. There is a lot more going on there than this, and I’m now sadly looking back 41 years when we were an organization that only had the public good and the Vineyard’s heritage in mind. So many honest, dedicated and selfless people worked to gain the public’s support that allowed us to raise the money to purchase and restore these properties… Some of the islanders that served on the Board were: Yvonne Sylvia (whose husband was Edgartown’s Fire Chief); Betty Robichau (an elementary school teacher); Sydna White (Tisbury’s own preservationist and supporter of the arts and music); Evie Bollotan (founder in 1971 of MV Chamber Music) and others such as Stuart Avery, Fairleigh S. Dickinson Jr, Susie Whittemore and so forth. They never “profited” off our island’s historic treasures – they worked hard to save them. They couldn’t possibly believe what’s happened today. I’m grateful they are not alive today.

    • Really any good CPA could help with this – this isn’t complicated, not like figuring out a complex securities fraud case. This is just ticking & tying the grant application figures to the underlying evidence (primarily bids, & get them confirmed by the bidding contractors), as detailed in the article. Don’t need specialized forensic accounting CPAs for this one. If the Trust doesn’t already have audits done of its financial statements, its Board – preferably an all-new Board – should engage a good audit firm & have one done. (I’m a corporate CPA who’s done a lot of complex digging in my career for large companies, particularly in acquisitions – this issue does not sound complex to me.)

    • I have talked about all the antics that happened here to various off-island “real world” friends and folk with employment and experience in this arena and the overwhelming responses are the same–eyes rolling back in their heads like cartoon window shades, much head shaking and very loud exclamations of “WTF?”. Very, very sad for the island.

  3. The Oak Bluffs selectmen and or the people who knew what happened here we’re not serving the taxpayers of Oak Bluffs. For some reason they decided to keep this quiet and if not for Edgartown‘s involvement this would’ve stayed that way. For too long the island has been run as a “old boys club “and this needs to stop. Taxpayers work hard for their money and they needed to be treated fairly and honestly and how their money is spent. We need to stop giving taxpayer money to nonprofits that are already tax exempt and not paying their share. We also need to encourage more people to speak out when they see something wrong or fraudulent occurring as my understanding this all got started by one person speaking out and getting this investigation started. One person can make a difference.

  4. If the Trust isn’t in the business of, or interested in running Alley’s Store, why is a Trust board member now taking over? I should think if others applied (if they were given a chance), someone other than a Board member would have been chosen. There is a serious problem here. I’m not ill-wishing the new management, but I still feel it’s wrong.

    • You are absolutely correct and your comments should be directed at the chairman Patrick Ahearn who has allowed all these shenanigans to occur. The Director is not the final say on anything the board must preview and help with direction. It is obvious that VINEYARD DISTRUST has earned its name.

  5. The “president and CEO” (once “executive director” – whenever did that name change?) is an employee charged with ‘excecuting’ the ‘directors’ (‘trustees) orders. They have no decision-making duties except for day-day operations (call the plumber when needed; be responsible for making sure events are run properly; getting bills ready for the President or Treasurer to approve and sign the checks). Period.
    IRS rules and Regulations state: Conflict of Interest: “One person is transacting business with the other (other than in the ordinary course of either party’s business on the same terms as are generally offered to the public), directly or indirectly, in one or more contracts of sale, lease, license, loan, performance of services, or other transaction involving transfers of cash or property valued in excess of $10,000 in the aggregate during the organization’s tax year.” Further, “…and, after exercising due diligence, determining that the organization cannot obtain a more advantageous transaction or arrangement with reasonable efforts under the circumstances; and of Conflict of Interest Policy.” Nothing was “offered to the public” that I can see? It appears to be an insider transaction. The IRS rules all tax-exempt nonprofits – the Board does not!

  6. Closing Alleys General Store for 2 months and firing its employees without notice is Unacceprable to the public that supports the store . The new Management Team of the Store has some explaining to do.
    Open up already !

    • Yes, agree, it’s obvious what happened re these two grants (and I have also seen the Edgartown hand-written changes Funi Burdick added to it the original estimate), but I’m now talking about examining the entire organization’s books – all 20 properties. There is a possibility of additional violations of IRS laws as well as state and local ones, and only a forensic accountant in the sub-practice area of 501(c)(3) non-profits could do this job. It would be well worth the Trust’s time to do this to clear their reputation once and for all, and start afresh: from the top of the board down.

  7. With this updated new police involvement to investigate the Trust, I guess it was asking for too much that the police also investigate the innumerable improprieties coming out of another “trust”, the “trust” citizens placed in 32 Water St.

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