Art dealer sentenced to 7 years in $86 million fraud scheme

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Art dealer sentenced to 7 years in $86 million fraud scheme
Rudolf Stingel (b. 1956), Untitled. Price realised: USD 6,517,500. Christie's Images Ltd 2020.

by Colin Moynihan

NEW YORK, NY.- A London art dealer who duped investors and then fled to an island in the Pacific was sentenced Monday to seven years in prison by a U.S. judge in Manhattan.

The dealer, Inigo Philbrick, has been in custody for nearly two years, since his arrest in 2020 on the island of Vanuatu. That time in custody will be counted toward his sentence, officials said.

Philbrick pleaded guilty to wire fraud in November, agreeing to forfeit $86 million.

He was a brash fixture within the world of postwar and contemporary art, traveling on private jets, renting villas in Ibiza and wearing handmade Italian suits.

A U.S. citizen who had attended Goldsmiths, University of London, which has a prestigious art program, Philbrick opened a gallery and consultancy when he was in his 20s. His father, Harry Philbrick, is the former director of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

In describing his scheme, prosecutors said that Philbrick had sold a total of more than 100% ownership in an artwork to multiple investors; sold works of art or used them as collateral on loans without the knowledge of their co-owners; and furnished “fraudulent” documents to “artificially inflate the value of artworks.”

“Inigo Philbrick grew his purportedly successful art business by collateralizing and reselling fractional shares in high dollar contemporary art,” Damian Williams, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said in a statement issued Monday. “Unfortunately, his success was built on brazen lies, including concealed ownership interests, fake documents and even an invented art collector.”

Federal guidelines called for a sentence of roughly 10 to 12 years, and prosecutors asked for a substantial term. But a defense lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, made a case for lenience in a Manhattan courtroom Monday, as a crowd of Philbrick’s supporters looked on from the gallery.

“We’re asking for mercy,” Lichtman told Judge Sidney H. Stein of U.S. District Court in Manhattan, saying that Philbrick had gone “off the rails” but was no longer the same person who had swindled investors.

Philbrick, wearing tan jail garb, told Stein that he felt deep shame and embarrassment over his actions and that he would work the rest of his life to restore the trust he had squandered and repay the debts he owed.

“I apologize without reservation or restraint,” he said, calling his conduct “outrageous and inexcusable.”

Stein noted that Philbrick had “great potential” and “all the social connections” but still had “engaged in this massive fraud.”

After issuing his sentence, Stein urged Philbrick to use his time in prison as “effectively” as he could.

“There is a lot you can contribute while incarcerated,” he said. “I do wish you good luck.”

A moment later, just before being escorted from the courtroom, Philbrick lowered a face mask that he was wearing, turned to face his supporters in the gallery, held a hand to his chest then blew a kiss.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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