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Tangled Tale of a Stolen Degas

MANHATTAN (CN) - A Manhattan antiques shop claims two women sold it a stolen Edgar Degas sculpture for $225,000. Universe Antiques claims a boyfriend of one woman swiped the sculpture after getting his hands on it to authenticate it, and that he admitted it and is in jail for it.

The owner of Universe Antiques, Jack Shaoul, sued Susan Sills, Longines Realty and Joan M. Gralla in New York County Court.

Shaoul says he contacted Sills at Longines Realty to express interest in Degas' bronze statute, "Danseuse regardant la plante de son pied droit," after receiving a fax from her in December 2004.

Shaoul says Sills told him that a woman named Joan Gralla had inherited the piece from an uncle in New Jersey and wanted to sell.

Shaoul says he met the women at Gralla's Upper East Side apartment the next day to see the sculpture. He says he grew suspicious when Sills had to leave the apartment to call someone from a pay phone to answer his questions about the work.

Shaoul believes Sills was calling Gralla's boyfriend, Thomas Doyle, who would later be indicted for stealing the sculpture from Norman Alexander.

Alexander is a retired New York business executive and collector of 20th-century art. Shaoul claims Doyle had offered to authenticate the piece for Alexander but never returned it.

Shaoul says he bought the piece from the women on behalf of his company for $225,000, unaware that it had been stolen.

Alexander then sued Universe Antiques and others in New York Supreme Court, and won judgment that the sculpture be returned, according to the complaint. The complaint adds that Doyle is in jail, having pleaded guilty to grand larceny and criminal possession of stolen property, "relating to the sculpture."

To further complicate things, Shaoul says that after buying the Degas, Universe Antiques sold half-interest in it to Rafael Collection Ltd. - co-plaintiff in this case.

The two plaintiffs then consigned it to Spanierman Gallery for $348,000, and Spanierman sold it to a customer named Buckley for $450,000, according to the complaint.

After the court ruled in 2008 that the art must be returned to Alexander, Spanierman returned the money to the buyer, and Universe and Rafael say they compensated Spanierman.

Universe and Rafael say they lost another $102,000 in compensating Spanierman. They seek $252,000 from Sills, Gralla and Longines Realty, alleging fraudulent misrepresentation. They want another $1 million in punitive damages and costs.

Universe and Rafael are represented by Martin Novar.


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