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Statue Of Liberty Funding Probe

More than two years after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks led to the closure of the Statue of Liberty, the public is still barred from touring the national symbol. And the private foundation funding security improvements is under federal investigation.

The inspector general of the U.S. Interior Department also plans to probe why the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation launched a $7 million fund-raising campaign for the reopening when it already had a $30 million endowment, The New York Times reported Monday, citing an unnamed government official.

Some of the expenditures by the foundation are also under scrutiny, like $279,000 spent on legal fees for unspecified reasons, the paper reports.

Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. told The Times: "Thousands of generous private donors have sent tens of millions of dollars to the foundation and they have every right to ask, 'What happened to my money?'"

The National Parks Service, which is responsible for the statue, did not return the paper's calls for comment Sunday.

Officials announced last week that access to the statue, which has been closed since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, would be relaxed in late July after security improvements were made using the $7 million in donations. Work on the improvements had not begun as of late last week.

According to the newspaper, the plans for this summer are to reopen the base of the statue, but the public will not be allowed to climb the monument.

The Times reported Sunday that the statue could have reopened sooner if the foundation's assets had been used to pay for the upgrades. But the Parks Service was slow in pursuing the project and did not ask Congress for the money because the agency was not sure it wanted to reopen the statue, the Times said.

The Parks Service countered that slow research into the improvements and a lengthy approval process had stalled the plans. The foundation told The Times that it does not spend money from its endowment on major restoration projects.

According to The Times, the foundation's practices have come under scrutiny before. Congress probed and was unable to substantiate claims for financial impropriety in 1986.

The Liberty foundation and other private groups that play a role at the nation's national parks and monuments were the subject of a General Accounting Office last year that cited the Parks Service for lapses in managing money spent by the groups.