In better days, Lawrence Salander lived in a Manhattan townhouse near the Metropolitan Museum of Art and sold paintings from a townhouse near the Frick Collection.
Today, the 61-year-old New York art dealer sleeps in a locked dormitory half a mile from LaGuardia Airport’s Marine Air Terminal. For two months since he was sentenced to 6 to 18 years in state prison, Salander has been living in the Rikers Island jail complex, waiting to move on to some long-term facility.
“It’s the slowly turning wheels of a large bureaucracy,” his lawyer, Charles Ross, said in an interview. “He’s obviously looking forward to having the process resolve itself.”
Stephen Morello, a spokesman for the New York City Department of Correction, said Salander hasn’t yet been transferred to the state prison system because of a paperwork snafu by state court.
“The state refuses to accept an inmate unless all the paperwork is accurate in its view,” he said.
In March, Salander pleaded guilty to grand larceny and fraud. He admitted to selling artworks he didn’t own and pocketing the proceeds to settle his own debts and the gallery’s. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office said he stole about $120 million.
Salander has seven children from two marriages. His lawyer said at the sentencing that Salander was a recovering alcoholic addicted to narcotics who could become suicidal in jail.
One enters Rikers, the second-largest U.S. jail system, after a three-minute taxi ride from LaGuardia to Hazen Street and 19th Avenue in a leafy corner of Queens. From there a city bus or private van traverses an extended causeway to a small bus terminal.
Salander is at the Anna M. Kross Center, named for the first female commissioner of the Department of Correction. It’s the largest facility on Rikers, with about 2,700 men. Visitors entering the terminal pass through a metal detector, and those bound for Kross were directed to waiting area nine. About two dozen people were lined up there on a recent afternoon, most of them black and Latina women, several with children.
After an officer issued a paper boarding pass with a visitor’s and inmate’s name, it was about an hour’s wait for a white bus, which was standing-room-only by the time I got on.
Following a short, winding drive, we arrived at Kross. An officer guided us through another metal detector, and a drug- sniffing mutt gave each person a twice-over.
Inside was a room with blue plastic chairs and lockers, the last step before visitors meet with inmates.
“If you go beyond this point with tobacco or money, you will be arrested,” says a sign with black letters. “Period.”
That day, Salander exercised a remaining freedom and declined to meet with me, a correction officer said.
Life may be particularly challenging for him at Kross, where most men are awaiting trial, some for violent crimes. There are as many as 50 men sleeping in a single room. Salander isn’t in an individual cell, as are some inmates, according to the Correction Department.
“Because he’s not a young black or Hispanic male affiliated with a gang, he stands out like a sore thumb,” said Jennifer Wynn, an assistant professor of criminal justice at LaGuardia Community College in Queens and author of the 2001 book “Inside Rikers.” “People will look at him and see one thing -- money.”
Adjusting to the loss of control is another challenge.
“You’re told when to sleep, when to eat,” she said. “It’s the chaos, it’s the noise. It’s the rules, half of which will make no sense to you.”
Salander and his gallery declared bankruptcy in November 2007, and for much of the past two years he lived on his 66-acre Millbrook, New York, property. Salander paid $1.1 million for it in 1997. It was to be auctioned yesterday at U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Poughkeepsie, with a minimum price of $2.5 million.
There were no bidders. The property includes two houses, a cement tennis court, a swimming pool and a now-overgrown baseball diamond.
In April 2008, U.S. Bankruptcy Court first proposed selling it for $6.25 million. The Salander family’s townhouse recently went for about $14 million, down from its original listing of $25 million.
Creditors of Salander and the gallery haven’t yet received money. Given the plunge in real-estate prices nationwide and disappointing sales for the Renaissance-era art Salander collected, their expectations are low.
“There is a lot of stuff beyond people’s control in this case,” said Thomas Genova, the trustee overseeing the Salander family bankruptcy.
The criminal case is People v. Salander, 09-03581, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at email@example.com.