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  • Andrew Wyeth's famous painting 'Ice Storm' (shown in partial view) is at the center of a legal dispute related to a Manhattan art fraud.

    Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting ‘Ice Storm’ (shown in partial view) is at the center of a legal dispute related to a Manhattan art fraud.

    Andrew Wyeth’s bucolic painting “Ice Storm” is at the center of a legal dispute evolving out of a 20-year-old New York City art scandal perpetrated by disgraced art dealer David Ramus, who swindled clients out of millions of dollars.

    Among his victims is Reed Galin, a former TV news anchor, who was a life-long friend of Ramus and college roommate.

    Galin filed the legal action in Manhattan’s federal district court in an effort to recover his $106,000 investment in Wyeth’s painting. It mysteriously disappeared during one of Ramus’s many fraudulent deals.

    The 1996 art scandal made headlines around the world. Ramus blew millions of dollars, in part, to feed a heroin addiction and ended up in a federal prison.

    Galin says in court papers he searched for the painting for 20 years without luck, until it turned up in a May auction at Christie’s in Manhattan. The painting was sold for $820,000.

    As it turns out, “Ice Storm” had been purchased years earlier by Kunitaki Hamada, who owns Gallery Hamada in Japan. Hamada and the gallery are defendants in the lawsuit.

    Galin charges that Hamada should have known the painting was involved in the Ramus art scandal because his rise and fall was widely reported.

    Attorney John Cahill, who represents Hamada, called the lawsuit an “opportunistic” attack “victimizing an innocent person.”

    Hamada bought the artwork from a “reputable buyer” without knowledge of Ramus’s art scandal, he said.

    Galin’s involvement with Ramus goes back to elementary school. Ramus even named Galin the godfather of his child, according to court papers.

    “In short, this was not a typical arms’ length dealer/consignor relation. Rather, it was a fiduciary relation based upon trust and a long-standing friendship,” the complaint states.

    After selling Galin a one-third interest in the painting, Ramus secretly transferred the title to the Coe-Kerr Gallery in Manhattan. Afterward, he led Galin on about trying to find a buyer.

    The life-ling friend only learned about Ramus’s deception after he was arrested.

    “As a result of the extensive publicity, some valuable artworks, or the proceeds from their sales, were eventually recovered and clawed back to their rightful owners,” the lawsuit says. “But ‘Ice Storm’ was not one of them.”

    Galin is seeking court order to force Christie’s to give him the proceeds of the sale. The auction house has not been named as a defendant.

    Christie’s is holding up the sale proceeds while the parties work toward resolution of the dispute, a spokeswoman told Courthouse News Service.

    For the latest developments on the case, be sure to follow IM on twitter.