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Salander faces charges over theft of $88m

30 March 2009Written by ATG Reporter

LAWRENCE B. Salander, the former owner of the bankrupt Manhattan art gallery Salander-O’Reilly, has been charged in a 100-count indictment with stealing $88m. He faces up to 25 years in prison.

In a statement, Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau said Mr Salander, aged 59, and the gallery he co-founded in 1976, have been charged with grand larceny, securities fraud, forgery, falsifying business records and other charges.

His arrest at his 66-acre estate in upstate New York came 17 months after the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries were shut down by court order and 16 months after Mr Salander filed for bankruptcy.

Showing none of the bravado that made him one of Manhattan’s highest-profile art dealers, Mr Salander attended court on March 26, handcuffed and unshaven in a paint-marked sweatshirt, to plead not guilty to all counts.

District Attorney Morgenthau said the charges covered transactions with 26 victims going back to 1994. At a news conference, he painted Mr Salander as a master manipulator and confidence trickster who sold multiple ‘half’ shares in the same pictures.

Mr Morgenthau cited the case of a pair of paintings Pirate I and Pirate II by the Abstract Expressionist Arshile Gorky. In October 2003, tennis player turned Contemporary art speculator John McEnroe believed he had bought a 50 per cent interest in the pictures for $2m. It is now alleged that Mr Salander later sold another 50 per cent share in the same paintings for $2.2m to Washington, D.C. developer Morton Bender, who also agreed to lend Mr Salander $2.2m for his own half-share.

Although he owned neither painting, Mr Morgenthau told how Mr Salander later used the Gorkys as collateral for a $2m personal loan from Bank of America before again ‘selling’ Gorky’s Pirate II to private dealer Joseph Carroll in an exchange valued at $2.5m.

“Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?” Mr Morgenthau said at the news conference.

These and other fraudulent practices – that have prompted parallels with the Bernie Madoff financial scandal – helped Mr Salander support his extravagant lifestyle and finance his declared aim to corner the market in Renaissance art.

Prosecutors say others may be charged in the fraud and investigations are continuing. In the US Bankruptcy Court, hundreds of claims remain against the gallery, seeking the return of about $300m.

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