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Steven Harvey, 50, made the plea on March 13, two weeks before his former boss Lawrence Salander was charged with stealing $88m from investors.

The court heard that on July 9, 2004, while director of one of New York’s largest picture dealerships, Harvey signed a consignment agreement pledging to pay Alison Hilding for works by her great uncle, the American artist Giorgio Cavallon, within 15 days of their sale. But Harvey admitted to investigators that he knew at the time he signed that the gallery would not honour the agreement and would retain the money for its own financial gain.

Alison Hilding, who represents the Cavallon estate, is seeking to recover six paintings by the artist with a market value of about $1.2m.

Harvey left Salander-O’Reilly in 2007, the same year that the gallery was forcibly closed by court order and filed for bankruptcy. He went on to open Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, advising collectors and buying and selling art from the Schlesinger Gallery on East 73rd Street.

Harvey pleaded guilty to falsifying business records in the first degree, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of imprisonment for up to four years, and is scheduled for sentencing on June 19.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney did not comment on Harvey’s cooperation with the Salander case, which is ongoing.