Manhattan Developer Shvo Accused of $1 Million Tax Evasion


Michael Shvo

Photographer: Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images
  • Shvo allegedly evaded taxes on art, jewelry and Ferrari Spider
  • Developer pleads not guilty and is released on $500,000 bail

For the last six years or so, real estate developer Michael Shvo allegedly went shopping for luxury goods that would make an oligarch swoon: fine art, jewelry, furniture, even a Ferrari.

On Thursday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance cut the spree short, accusing Shvo of evading more than $1 million in state and local taxes while making his high-end purchases.

Shvo, 43, pleaded not guilty in Manhattan state court to charges that included felony tax fraud and falsifying business records. He was released on $500,000 bail. Two of his companies were also charged in a scheme to avoid paying state and local taxes on art purchases from 2010 to 2016, according to Vance.

The case is just the latest by state authorities to scrutinize art dealers and collectors for crimes that range from fraud to tax evasion. In May, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced two tax settlements -- one with Aby Rosen, a New York real estate developer with a storied half-billion-dollar art collection, and another with a sales executive at the prominent Gagosian Gallery Inc. 

Rosen, a Manhattan developer known for displaying works by Picasso and Warhol at marquee properties including the Seagram Building and Lever House, agreed to pay $7 million related to claims he avoided paying taxes on $80 million worth of fine art. In a separate deal, Victoria Gelfand, a Gagosian director, agreed to pay $210,000 in unpaid taxes on more than 30 pieces of art she had purchased through her privately owned companies. The settlements didn’t include admissions of wrongdoing.

Resale Certificate

Shvo allegedly used several methods to avoid taxes. He’s accused of fraudulently using a New York resale certificate to buy more than $65,000 in jewelry for his wife and furniture for his office. The certificates are intended for dealers who buy items solely for resale and don’t have to pay taxes.

When he bought a new Ferrari 458 Spider from an out-of-state dealer, Shvo allegedly established a limited liability company in Montana -- Seren LLC, named after his wife -- and registered the sports car to the company. But Seren conducted no business in Montana and the car was driven in New York, Vance said.

In another instance, Shvo Art Ltd., evaded at least $275,000 in state and city taxes on profits from the sale of fine art and furniture, according to Vance. Between 2010 and 2016, Shvo claimed the company and its assets were located offshore when the business was really at his offices and homes in Manhattan and the Hamptons, prosecutors said.

Two others were also charged. They allegedly aided in a plot to provide auction houses and galleries with shipping documentation that deliberately misrepresented Shvo’s purchases.

No Crime

"Mr. Shvo looks forward to his day in court where he will mount a defense to all charges related to his art business and is confident he will be acquitted," his spokesman Ronn Torossian said in an e-mailed statement. "While Mr. Shvo is prominent in the art world, he has not committed any crime nor did he act with any criminal intent whatsoever.”

A regular presence at art fairs and auctions, Shvo took on a more public role in 2013 when he partnered with a Chelsea gallery to convert a former Getty gas station by the High Line into a pop-up art installation featuring 25 sheep sculptures by a French artist duo known as Les Lalanne. The lot, where the bronze-and-epoxy flock grazed amid old pumps, would later become the site of a luxury condo tower designed by architect and collector Peter Marino.

His collection includes works by Andy Warhol and Takashi Murakami. In 2010, he paid $1.9 million for Tom Wesselmann’s shaped canvas, “Mouth no. 8," at Christie’s auction in New York.

Manhattan Developer

Shvo, a former Manhattan real estate broker who closed his eponymous firm during the financial crisis, re-emerged in recent years as a developer. He has more than $4 billion worth of high-end apartments under construction in Manhattan.

Shvo’s case is the first for criminal tax evasion related to artworks brought by the Manhattan District Attorney since a spate of charges were filed a decade ago. Those were sparked by publicity from the sales-tax prosecution of L. Dennis Kozlowski, the former Tyco International Ltd. chief executive officer.

Vance also filed a related civil action seeking forfeiture of funds earned by Shvo and two of his companies during the alleged scheme. Vance has obtained a temporary freeze on at least $1.5 million of Shvo’s assets.

The case is The People of the State of New York v. Shvo, 03341-2016, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).

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