NEW YORK – An art dealer who conned his star-studded clientele out of $120 million while indulging in such luxuries as a private baseball stadium was sentenced Tuesday to at least six years in prison for a fraud that swept up John McEnroe and the estate of Robert De Niro's father.
A tearful Lawrence Salander told a Manhattan judge before hearing the sentence, which could send him to prison for as long as 18 years without time off for good behavior, that he was "deeply ashamed." The disgraced 61-year-old art dealer said his wife had recently decided to separate from him.
"I lost my wife, my business and my reputation," Salander said as several of his 30 victims watched from the courtroom audience, still reeling from their own losses.
The bankrupt Salander hasn't paid any restitution to his victims.
"He stole my childhood promises," said Dr. Ellen Shander, a psychiatrist whose father's estate was swindled out of $2.2 million in paintings, including a Picasso, a Monet and a Cezanne.
Salander pleaded guilty in March to grand larceny and other charges, admitting he bilked his clients through phony art investment opportunities and sales of pieces he didn't own. He sold investors shares in artworks that amounted to more than 100 percent, inflated the prices backers paid to buy in and lied about having lucrative deals lined up to resell the pieces.
Meanwhile, he kept sale proceeds he should have given to artists' families and others who entrusted him with pieces to sell. Sometimes he used their artworks to pay his own debts while indulging in private jet travel and a 66-acre estate in Millbrook, N.Y., where he built a small baseball stadium, prosecutors said.
"Lawrence Salander is a pathological, self-absorbed con man," Assistant District Attorney Kenn Kern said.
One of Salander's investors, a group called Renaissance Art Investors LLC, lost at least $45 million. The estate of abstract expressionist Robert De Niro Sr., the "Raging Bull" actor's father, lost about $1.25 million.
McEnroe lost about $2 million after Salander sold him a half-interest in a painting by the renowned abstract expressionist Arshile Gorky — a work the three-time Wimbledon tennis champion later learned was on someone else's wall, prosecutors said.
State Supreme Court Justice Michael Obus called Salander's scheme a "deplorable" exploitation of a business that operated on handshake deals.
"There is no excuse," the judge said.
Salander is a recovering alcoholic and prescription drug addict, and he had a stroke shortly before his guilty plea, defense lawyer Charles Ross said.
The process of dismantling the Manhattan dealer's now-closed Salander-O'Reilly Galleries LLC continues in bankruptcy court.