Lawrence Salander the art dealer looking at 18 years for $120 million fraud

He cultivated their trust with his longstanding reputation as a prominent art dealer and endeared them with a smile, backslapping charm and firm reassurances. But he used it all to steal — not only money and valuable artwork, but also family heirlooms, memories of loved ones and connections to the past.

Those viewpoints were shared Tuesday by 10 victims of Lawrence B. Salander, the once-esteemed art dealer who pleaded guilty in March to a $120 million fraud scheme that included stealing from the likes of John McEnroe and the estate of Robert De Niro Sr., an artist and the father of the actor.

The victims took turns standing at a lectern in State Supreme Court in Manhattan and calling for a harsh sentence. And in the end, despite a tearful plea for mercy from the defendant, Justice Michael J. Obus ordered Mr. Salander, 61, to serve 6 to 18 years in prison, the maximum term agreed upon in the plea arrangement. He also ordered Mr. Salander to pay more than $114 million in restitution, but acknowledged that it was unlikely that Mr. Salander would be able to come up with that sum.

Justice Obus did not impose a penalty on Mr. Salander’s company, Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, which had pleaded guilty to grand larceny and other charges in the case.

Ellyn Shander, the daughter of the now deceased Dr. Alexander Pearlman, whose estate Mr. Salander stole artwork from, said afterward that the sentence should have been longer.

“We all walk away with shattered lives, and he goes to prison for six years,” Ms. Shander said. “Where’s the justice in that?”

In court, Ms. Shander said that Mr. Salander would tell her father that he was like a dad to him.

After her father’s burial a few years ago, Ms. Shander said, Mr. Salander came over to his apartment that very day to pick up her father’s art collection. Mr. Salander was supposed to hold on to the collection, which included works by Picasso, Monet and Cézanne, Ms. Shander said. But he ended up selling many of the pieces without permission and keeping the money for himself, she said.

“He walked in all concerned and crying for my dad, and he walked out with a $2 million-plus art collection that he stole,” she said. “What kind of human being does that?”

Earl Davis, the son of the American modernist painter Stuart Davis, said in court that he had developed such a close relationship with Mr. Salander that he became Mr. Salander’s “biggest fan.”

But in the mid-1990s, Mr. Salander began secretly selling paintings by Mr. Davis’s father that Mr. Davis had asked him to hold. Mr. Davis, whose father died in 1964, said he found out only later that Mr. Salander dispersed some 90 pieces from his father’s collection.

Mr. Davis said he had difficulty grasping that a man he thought was a friend would steal from him. Mr. Salander “manipulated my totally unsuspecting friendship and trust,” Mr. Davis said.

“Had I been robbed at gunpoint or by a thief in the night,” Mr. Davis added, “it would have been preferable to the ruthlessly drawn out torture that he inflicted upon me.”

Kenn Kern, the assistant district attorney who spoke in court Tuesday, had asked Justice Obus to impose the sentence that the judge ultimately did.

With his wife — from whom he is now separated — and three of his children sitting in the courtroom, Mr. Salander broke down as he apologized in court.

“First I want to apologize to the victims of my crimes,” Mr. Salander said. “I know that I have wronged you and I am truly ashamed of my behavior. You trusted me and I betrayed you and I am deeply sorry for the pain and loss my actions have caused you.”

He added: “I have lost my life, my business and my reputation. I am utterly and completely disgraced.”

His lawyer, Charles A. Ross, also asked for leniency because of Mr. Salander’s health. He recently suffered strokes, he is a recovering alcoholic and narcotics abuser, and he has suffered from serious mental health problems, Mr. Ross said.

Mr. Salander’s health problems and his apology did not elicit sympathy from Ms. Shander.

“I don’t think it was genuine at all,” she said outside the courtroom, referring to the apology. “I think it was self-serving, and I don’t think Larry Salander has changed at all.”


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