Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, appearing at Wikimania 2005 in Frankfurt, Germany.  (Source: Andrew Lih/Wikipedia)
Controversy swirls around Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales

Recent blog posts from Wikipedia ex-employee Danny Wool touched off a series of scandals earlier this week, centered around Wikipedia founder and chair emeritus Jimmy Wales.

Wool, writing in his blog, “All’s Wool that Ends Wool,” claims that Wales improperly used Wikimedia Foundation funds to cover lavish personal expenses, including visits to a massage parlor in Moscow and expensive wine for friends.

The claims appear to be part of the fallout from Wales’ high-profile breakup with Canadian TV commentator Rachel Marsden. Shortly afterwards, gossip blog Valleywag started receiving copies of lurid chat transcripts supposedly between Wales and Marsden, purportedly from Marsden’s friends.

One conversation disclosed to Valleywag shows Wales discussing edits to Marsden’s after they got together, touching off controversy over possible conflicts of interest.

Wales maintains his edits were completely above-board, and that after the two met, he “recused [himself] from any further official action with respect to her biography.”

Meanwhile, Wool posted a blog entry called, “Money for nothing, chicks for free?” on March 1, claiming that ValleyWag “missed a few of the facts.” Wool claimed that Wales’ affairs, both with Marsden and others past, as well as numerous spending binges, had “an impact on the Foundation’s cash reserves,” wholly derived from donations as the Wikimedia Foundation is a non-profit enterprise.

“You see, Jimbeau was certainly not frugal in his spending on his endless trips abroad, but when it came to handing in receipts, he could be somewhat careless,” wrote Wool, “at one point he owed the Foundation some $30,000 in receipts.” According to Wool, Wales frequently tried to expense lavish personal expenditures: “I wonder if the students who gave up their lunch money to donate to Wikipedia would have approved of that expense.”

Wool insinuated … that Wales was careless with expenses and receipts, often asking the San Francisco foundation to pay for personal expenses,” reads a report in the San Francisco Chronicle. “He said the expenditures piled up as Wales' celebrity grew, prompting the foundation to take away his credit card.”

Both Wikimedia Foundation and Wales denied any wrongdoing. Florence Devouard, chair of the Wikimedia Foundation, told the Associated Press that Wales was simply “slow in submitting receipts,” and noted that the foundation was not afraid of rejecting frivolous expenses.

In an interview with CNET TV, Wikimedia Foundation executive director Sue Gardner said that Wales had expensed a total of $1,100 in travel-related costs over the last nine months. Wales had “done nothing but be modest, frugal, and do what’s best for the organization.”

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