One of the biggest New York art frauds in recent memory that drew in celebrities like tennis star John McEnroe, hot shot financiers and even art world denizens came to an uncerimonial close this week when the perpetrator, Lawrence B. Salander, 60, pleaded guilty in court.
The once high-flying art dealer confessed that as part of the $120 million scheme he sold paintings he did not own, and sold fractional ownership in others where the sum of the parts did not equal the whole.
“I am deeply ashamed and sorry for my actions,” dealer, Salander, 60, said, admitting that McEnroe, hedge fund manager Roy Lennox, painter Stuart Davis’s son were among his marks.
From all outward appearances, Salander ran a legitimate shop in a tony Upper East Side townhouse. His gallery included fine art, as well as celebrity art by the father of Robert De Niro.
But the Salander-O’Reilly Galleries LLC, declared bankruptcy amid dozens of lawsuits. In the gallery case alone, creditors filed claims seeking more than $300 million, according to Bloomberg news.
As part of the plea deal, Salander read an eight-page statement in court, admitting to 29 charges of grand larceny and scheming to defraud investors. McEnroe was said to have lost $2 million in the ruse, while De Niro’s losses topped more than $1 million.
Salander still must be sentenced and faces up to 18 years in prison. But in a clear play for sympathy he appeared in court in frail health, purportedly after suffering from a stroke. Alcoholism also reportedly blurred his judgment.
The judge has ordered him to repay his victims to the extent that he can.