NYC celebrity art dealer pleads guilty to $120M swindle

NEW YORK (AP and ACNI) – A Manhattan art dealer who catered to celebrities and artists’ heirs has admitted bilking about $120 million from clients through bogus art investment opportunities and sales of pieces he didn’t own.

Lawrence B. Salander has pleaded guilty in New York’s State Supreme Court to 28 counts of grand larceny and scheming to defraud in a case that swept up tennis star John McEnroe and the estate of actor Robert De Niro’s artist father as victims.

The 60-year-old Salander has been promised a prison term topping out at a range of six to 18 years. Salander must also pay his victims restitution to the tune of $120 million.

The former art gallery owner admitted swindling McEnroe out of about $2 million after the retired athlete invested in Arshile Gorky’s Pirate I and Pirate II paintings. The Associated Press reported in March that Salander had sold McEnroe a half-interest in one of the Gorky paintings, but in a twist of fate, McEnroe later learned the painting was displayed on someone else’s wall.

In another example of Salander’s illegal business dealings, several artworks by Robert De Niro’s late father, the abstract expressionist painter Robert De Niro Sr., were sold by executives at the now-defunct Salander O’Reilly Galleries without the film star’s permission. The mother of Beastie Boys star Mike D also reportedly fell victim to the scam, costing her $6 million.

Salander, who was arrested last March and again in July, has been free on $1 million bail. reported today that Assistant District Attorney Micki Shulman requested a change in bail conditions, relevant to “‘reports’ of Salander’s alcohol abuse and the postponement of the plea from earlier in the month ‘because of his physical condition.’” Salander’s defense lawyer told the court that his client had been hospitalized following a stroke.

In March, Salander admitted in court that he sold investors shares in artworks that amounted to more than 100 percent, inflated the prices backers paid to buy in, and lied about having lucrative deals lined up to resell the pieces.

Meanwhile, he said he kept sale proceeds he should have given to artists’ families and others who entrusted him with pieces to sell. Sometimes he used their artworks to satisfy his own debts in a life prosecutors have said was rife with such perks as private jet travel and a 66-acre country estate.

“Lawrence Salander’s desire for an extravagant lifestyle turned longtime friends and trusted business colleagues into his personal piggy banks,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement following Salander’s March court appearance.

Meanwhile, the process of dismantling Salander-O’Reilly Galleries LLC continues to play out in bankruptcy court. Some consigned artworks have been returned to their owners, while creditors have hashed out a plan to sell off thousands of other pieces the gallery held, said Robert J. Feinstein, a lawyer for the creditors.

The gallery, established in 1976, advertised works by artists ranging from Gorky to 19th-century master Gustave Courbet.

The criminal investigation began in October 2007 after allegations arose that the gallery was stealing its wealthy clients’ art and money. Soon afterward, a judge halted sales and ordered the gallery’s contents seized.

Click to read Auction Central News’ previous coverage of this case:

Former New York art dealer admits to nearly $100M fraud

NYC art gallery owner charged in $88 million theft

NYC art gallery owner indicted again



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