On Thursday, March 18, a year after his arrest on more than 100 criminal counts, Salander, 61, appeared in a Manhattan courtroom to issue a guilty plea on 29 counts of grand larceny, securities fraud, forgery, falsifying business records and other charges.
Prosecutors had accused Salander of a raft of fraud charges believed to have cost victims around $120m, including: 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 authorised price and lying on a $2m loan application.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance told reporters that bankrupt Salander is likely to receive a sentence of six to 18 years in state prison. The court is also expected to order Salander to pay back the $120m, though his ability to do so remains in doubt. Shortly after the Salander-O’Reilly Gallery closed down in October 2007 amid a blaze of legal and financial woes, Salander filed for bankruptcy, declaring debts of more than $50m. More than 30 civil law suits are seeking damages from Salander as well.
“Lawrence Salander’s desire for an extravagant lifestyle turned long-time friends and trusted business colleagues into his personal piggy banks,” District Attorney 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 unauthorised 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.”
While more than 400 claimants have stated that they are owed money or art, at least some of the Salander-O’Reilly gallery inventory – thought to number as many as 1000 works – is expected to be sold at Christie’s in June.
According to court reports, First Republic Bank, a secured creditor owed $30m from a 2002 loan it made to Salander, has agreed to pay the first $2.5m from the sale to unsecured creditors involved in the case.