Federal and local authorities are investigating the reported theft of $300,000 from the Baltimore Museum of Industry, a South Baltimore facility that displays artifacts from the manufacturing businesses that shaped the city's history.
Officials at the museum announced yesterday that they are missing money -- the equivalent of 20 percent of their annual budget -- and they said authorities are in the midst of a three-month investigation.
"This is a very difficult situation," said Paul Cypher, the museum's executive director. "It's like a kick in the gut."
Cypher said museum officials believe they know who is responsible for the theft and have tightened internal controls.
U.S. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Frank Schissler confirmed that his agency -- as well as the Baltimore Police Department and the city state's attorney's office -- are looking into the case.
Schissler declined to say more, and state's attorney's officials declined to comment. The Baltimore police detective on the case could not be reached for comment.
The nonprofit museum's annual operating budget is $1.5 million, Cypher said.
About 150,000 visitors pass through the Key Highway museum each year, including more than 60,000 schoolchildren.
For this fiscal year, about half of the 27-year-old museum's revenue came from contributions -- including government grants, membership dues and donations, officials said.
Cypher said the museum is expanding its programs and expects to recoup the missing money, so it is not in severe financial trouble.
But he said it is a "big concern" that the missing money could repel potential donors. He said they should be reassured by the additional fiscal checks put in place.
"We learned," Cypher said, "that all of us are vulnerable."