His eyes filled with tears, New York art dealer Lawrence Salander kissed his flaxen-haired wife, hugged three of his seven children and was handcuffed and taken into custody.
Moments earlier he was sentenced in lower Manhattan to six to 18 years in state prison, the maximum he could receive after he pleaded guilty to stealing $120 million from clients, investors and Bank of America Corp.
The sentencing yesterday was the crescendo to a public saga that began in November 2007, when Salander and his gallery filed for bankruptcy. Prosecutors called it one of the biggest art frauds in New York state history.
With good behavior, Salander may be eligible for parole in less than six years, said his lawyer, Charles Ross.
Ten of his victims -- most of them relatives of artists and collectors -- described the financial and emotional devastation of his looting. With the length of his prison term hanging in the balance, Salander said he’s ashamed of his behavior and apologized to victims and his family.
“I’ve lost my wife, my business and my reputation,” he said in halting tones. “I am utterly and completely disgraced.”
His wife Julie recently left him, Ross said. She sat expressionless through most of the proceeding. Their four boys, ages 13 and under, weren’t in court. Salander’s three adult children from a previous marriage -- Ivana, Jonah and Isaac -- watched solemnly.
Victim De Niro
Salander, 61, was arrested in March 2009 and pleaded guilty a year later to stealing from clients and investors, including tennis champion John McEnroe and actor Robert De Niro. The bankrupt dealer hasn’t paid any of the $114.9 million of restitution he owes, New York State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus said.
Prosecutors said Salander stole money to fund a lavish lifestyle. He operated out of an Italianate mansion on East 71st Street with a base rent of $154,000 a month. He lived in a townhouse 11 blocks north and on a 66-acre property in Millbrook, New York. He flew to Europe and within the U.S. on private planes.
“Lawrence Salander is a pathologically self-absorbed con man who betrayed friends, investors, heirs and living artists,” Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Kenn Kern said. “And for what? Living the dream.”
Salander conducted “a Ponzi scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud,” Kern said.
When he pleaded guilty to grand larceny and scheming to defraud in March, Salander admitted to using consignors’ works to satisfy his own debts and that of his gallery. He directed staff not to tell clients when he sold their work. And he said he submitted fraudulent loan applications to Bank of America in support of a $2 million personal loan.
Earl Davis, the son of American modernist Stuart Davis, said yesterday that being robbed at gunpoint would’ve been preferable to the emotional trauma of being taken in over several years by his longtime friend.
Davis, who was 12 when his father died in 1964, called the sentence appropriate.
“His remorse was too late,” he told reporters after the sentencing.
Ellyn Shander, a Stamford, Connecticut, psychiatrist, said in court that Salander sold a collection of paintings she and her two sisters inherited from their father, without permission and without remitting proceeds.
“We left the cemetery after burying my dad and met Larry at the apartment,” she said. “He walked in all concerned and crying for my dad, and walked out with a $2 million-plus art collection that he stole. What kind of human being does that?”
Ross asked Obus for leniency, calling the dealer a good man, who while addicted to alcohol and the painkiller Vicodin did bad things.
“His crimes are so horrible it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that he made such significant contributions to the art world,” Ross said. “Mr. Salander was a massively ambitious man. And when he faltered, he could not let go.”
The criminal case of Leigh Morse, who worked at Salander-O’Reilly and was also arrested last year, is pending. Salander’s personal and gallery bankruptcy cases continue. The Millbrook property and more than 2,000 artworks recovered from the gallery remain unsold.
Salander was to be taken to a New York City jail on Rikers Island, then Downstate Correctional Facility in Fishkill, New York, Ross said. Linda Foglia, a spokeswoman for the New York State Dept. of Correctional Services, said he will be “tested and evaluated” before his permanent home is determined.
Said Ross: “Doing state time is much tougher than doing Federal time. There are older facilities and more violent inmates.”
The case is People v. Salander, 09-03581, New York State Supreme Court, New York County (Manhattan).