MANHATTAN (CN) – Art dealer Lawrence Salander pleaded guilty Thursday to orchestrating a $120 million art fraud involving his world-renowned, and now shuttered Manhattan gallery. Salander pleaded guilty to 29 counts of grand larceny, admitting he ripped off artists, investors, art consigners, businesses, financial institutions and celebrities, including Robert De Niro and John McEnroe.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said he expects Salander to be sentenced to 6 to 18 years in state prison, and he and his gallery ordered to pay $120 million in restitution.
Salander, 61, co-owned the Salander-O’Reilly Gallery, which was named the best gallery in the world in 2003 by Luxury Lifestyle Magazine and the Robb Report.
It closed down in 2007 amid Salander’s legal and financial woes.
When he declared bankruptcy a month later, Salander listed $50 million to $100 million in disputed debts.
“Lawrence Salander’s desire for an extravagant lifestyle turned long-time friends and trusted business colleagues into his personal piggy banks,” Vance said in a statement. “The defendant not only stole money from his victims, but in some cases he stole their family’s heritage. Many of these pieces of art were created by the victims’ parents and grandparents; these items held special meaning for the victims. The defendant’s lack of respect for these pieces, demonstrated by his unauthorized sale of works at well below consignors’ asking prices, and his treatment of the works as mere commodities for personal gain contradicts his every claim that he is motivated by art and not greed.”
Among the crimes committed by the disgraced dealer: selling paintings that neither he nor the gallery owned, selling three half-shares of a single artwork, failing to notify investors when their artwork was sold, selling consigned works against the owner’s wishes or below the authorized price, and directing employees not to inform consigners when their paintings were sold.
Salander also admitted defrauding Bank of America of $2 million by submitting a phony loan application in which he stated that his wife owned artwork that belonged to other people, including McEnroe.
And he repeatedly sold artwork by Robert De Niro Sr., an abstract expressionist, and rarely notified or paid his estate, including his son, the Oscar-winning actor, prosecutors said.
Salander has been named as a defendant in 32 civil lawsuits since 2007, according to the Courthouse News database.