Ben Buchwalter


Prosecutors: Ponzi Scheming Art Dealer Bilked McEnroe, DeNiro

March 31, 2009

While at TPM, I wrote about Lawrence Salander, a bombastic art gallery owner who cheated his high-profile investors, including Robert DeNiro and John McEnroe, out of $88 million in a Ponzi scheme. Talk about guys you don’t want to piss off… Clearly, Salander’s crime pales in comparison to some of the more notorious financial villains — like Bernie Madoff and Sir Allen Stanford — but the allegation was significant because it was “part of a surge in Ponzi cases brought by authorities since the start of the year,” I wrote in March. The post was promoted on the TPM front page and mentioned on Josh Marshall’s blog. Read the TPMmuckraker post for all the gruesome details. Here’s a preview:

One of those came from McEnroe, who served as an apprentice to the gallery as his tennis career was winding down in 1993. According to Bloomberg, the mercurial left-hander bought from Salander two paintings by the Armenian-born 20th century modernist Arshile Gorky for $2 million, and was promised a 50 percent interest on their sale. But Salander allegedly made the same deal on the same paintings with Morton Bender, a Washington-based developer, to nab another $2.2 million. He then sold one of the paintings to a third person, for $2.5 million and kept all the profits. (“Why sell it once when you can sell it three times?” Morgenthau asked of the operation.) When Christies’ Auction House told McEnroe that he could not move the painting because Bender had lien on it, McEnroe sued Salander, at which point New York prosecutors contacted the former tennis star.

Salander also allegedly stole nearly 50 paintings from DeNiro, all of which were painted by the actor’s father. After Salander was entrusted with the paintings, DeNiro claims in his own suit against the dealer, Salander sold them to help settle the estimated $100 million debt he was facing following the bankruptcy.

As his scheme crumbled, said prosecutors, Salander used “innuendos and bullying” to dissuade disgruntled investors from speaking to investigators. Assistant DA Micki Shulman pointed to an email to investor Earl Davis in which Salander said he would protect his gallery at all costs. “It will not be pretty but believe me Earl I don’t think you understand what you would be in for,” he wrote.

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