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"He resigned the next day," Skaggs says, "and I haven't had a conversation with him since."
Things continued to unravel after Sloan's departure. Conger learned that a $35,000 tourism grant from the city never made it into the museum's account. Looking through records at City Hall, she found that Sloan had deposited the money into a museum checking account that no one else knew about. Sloan, it was later discovered, had been withdrawing money from the account by writing checks to PDS, a company that took its name from his initials.
Cass County prosecutors filed charges against Sloan on October 15, 2010. He admitted only to stealing a partial sum — $10,000. (He refused to speak to The Pitch.) But if the thefts happened as Conger described to police, they started a month after the 2007 Travolta event and continued until August 2008 — before, during and after the attorney general's investigation that Skaggs thought was a waste of time.
The first thing visitors see when walking up to the Airline History Museum is an L-1011 jet that sits outside the hangar. Its engines removed, the plane looks as if it has been pawed by some creature of science fiction. Dickerson says the jet will help the museum tell a more complete story of passenger aviation. But as it sits on the tarmac, it looks more like somebody's tax write-off than a thoughtful acquisition.
A month after Sloan's guilty plea, Skaggs says his main goal for the museum is to put its signature planes — the Connie and the DC-3 — back in the air.
"I don't really want to get into all the petty fighting," he says, sitting around a table with Conger and Dickerson in his corner office at City Hall. "That's not my deal."
Skaggs, however, hasn't always had his vision trained on the horizon. In 2009, when the members' lawsuit was dismissed on a technicality, he and the museum's new board tried to revive the case against Geldersma. Dickerson's law firm, continuing to reach for the insurance money, filed a new claim against Geldersma on the board's behalf.
Ultimately the scheme collapsed. The museum never got its payday, and it agreed to pay the legal fees of Geldersma and his co-defendants, according to sources with knowledge of the case. (Geldersma declined to comment.)
Dickerson refuses to discuss the lawsuit, but his role in it cost him the respect of some museum supporters. Ingram recalls meeting a potential donor, a retired TWA executive, who withheld a $25,000 donation. "Until you get the lawsuit cleaned up, I'm not giving you a dime," he told her.
The museum could have used the money. A $750,000 donation from a former TWA captain has dwindled. So has membership, which is about half of what it was at the museum's peak.
The museum endures only because of the dedication of the volunteers. On a recent Saturday, a white-haired, soft-spoken man named Charles leads a tour group of four, which includes a woman who donated some belongings of her father, a former TWA mechanic.
The tour takes guests through the cabins of the Martin and the Connie. "She's our pride and glory," Charles explains when the group reaches the latter aircraft.