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April 16, 2014

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The Liberace experience hits a sour note as Brian ‘Paco’ Alvarez steps down as chairman

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Steve Marcus

Liberace Foundation Chairman Brian “Paco” Alvarez is interviewed during an open house and book launch at the Liberace house Monday, Dec. 9, 2013. Liberace’s former residence was purchased by British businessman Martyn J. Ravenhill for $500,000 in August.

Liberace and the Art of Costume

Shannon Nutt, left assistant curator, and curator Dierdra Clemente look over a Liberace costume prior to the opening of Launch slideshow »

In a sudden and unexpected announcement, Brian “Paco” Alvarez has stepped down as chairman of the Liberace Foundation board of directors, a position he has held for three years.

One of the city’s foremost historians and authorities on Las Vegas culture, Alvarez issued a terse letter of resignation this afternoon after the foundation’s board of directors convened today for a vote of “no confidence” for his performance as its chairman. Alvarez didn't wait for a result of that vote, sending his email without even knowing if the vote took place.

"It comes with great distress and sadness that I announce today ... my immediate and unconditional resignation as chairman and as board of director from the Liberace Foundation," Alvarez wrote in the email announcing his resignation. "Unfortunately, one of the Foundation’s board members has decided to assemble the board this afternoon and have a vote of no confidence on the work that I have done for the Foundation. Therefore, because of this, I have no choice to resign and move on."

Alvarez later said in an email asking for further comment that longtime board member Jeffrey Koep, the UNLV Dean of the College of Fine Arts and a former Liberace Foundation chairman of the board, also has resigned. Alvarez added that the board member who called the no-confidence meeting was Honorary Consul of Monaco Jonathan Warren, who is the foundation’s vice chairman and treasurer. Warren’s position is second on the list of board members on the Liberace Foundation website, an indication that — at least at the moment — he is the foundation’s ranking officer.

Alvarez referred questions about the future of the foundation to Warren, who was not immediately available for comment. Koep says his decision to step down was "entirely serendipitous," as he was not fully engaged in the board's activities over the past 2 1/2 years. "Frankly, I was not a very good board member, and that's why I decided to step down. I think Paco has done an admirable job as chairman, but I don't want to be seen in one camp or another. If I had stepped down in protest, I certainly would have stated that, but that is not the case."

Alvarez took over that post in 2011 and has helmed the Liberace Foundation as it has negotiated its way through a bankruptcy filing issued in the fall of 2012. The foundation sought Chapter 11 protection as an attempt to stave off a lawsuit filed by U.S. Bank, which at the time had been pushing for a Clark County-appointed receiver to take over the Liberace Foundation’s property and the vast Liberace collection.

Alvarez had been working ever since that filing to negotiate a way to satisfy the bank’s claim that the foundation owed more than $1 million on its former parcel on East Tropicana Avenue. In a lawsuit filed in September 2012, those investors charged that the foundation owed $1.27 million on the loan and fell into default because it hadn’t made a mortgage payment since February 2012.

In an email, Alvarez said his ouster was “all (Warren’s) making” and that Alvarez had already signed the declaration to end the bankruptcy effective Jan. 29, an important moment in the Foundation's history. He said Warren never called him to discuss or explain his issues with Alvarez's performance as chairman and likened the process as a "hostile takeover" by Warren to become the Foundation's chairman.

Despite the change in the organization’s hierarchy, the Liberace Foundation’s business offices are set to move into Neonopolis in downtown Las Vegas this spring, with pieces of the collection (a version of which is on display at the Cosmopolitan) to follow by year’s end.

In his resignation letter, Alvarez wished the foundation’s friends and partners “Godspeed” and praised his friend Melanie Coffee, the foundation’s interim director who is preparing for the organization’s move to Neonopolis.

Alvarez wrote, “It has been a great time, but ultimately I am only human and can tolerate only so much, especially from people who for some reason do not have confidence in my leadership abilities nor have put in the blood, sweat and tears that I have put in.”

Follow John Katsilometes on Twitter at Twitter.com/JohnnyKats. Also, follow “Kats With the Dish” at Twitter.com/KatsWiththeDish.

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