By Shayna Jacobs
MANHATTAN SUPREME COURT — An art dealer who admitted to conning celebrities clients and other art owners out of $120 million worth of artwork was sentenced to at least six years in prison on Tuesday.
Lawrence Salander, 61, was accused of swindling such clients as John McEnroe and Robert De Niro's father through "a scheme that would make Bernie Madoff proud," prosecutors said. He heads to prison without paying back any clients he stole from.
The art dealer would sell off works owned by his clients at inflated prices, pocket the money, and then lie about the paintings whereabouts, prosecutors said during the trial.
Before his indictment, Salander lived in a $15 million townhouse, took helicopter rides to his son's little league games and set up a lavish life for his entire family all on stolen proceeds, prosecutors said.
"All the while his creditor list was growing and his debt was skyrocketing," prosecutor Kenn Kern said.
As part of his guilty plea, Salander was ordered to pay back his 26 victims, but prosecutors said he made little effort to do so.
One defrauded customer, Ellyn Shandler, said in court Tuesday she inherited pieces by Picasso and Cezanne from her father, a radiologist who died after entrusting all of his paintings to Salander.
He sold them off for $2.2 million, she said.
"Everybody walks out of here, our lives shattered and he goes to jail," she said. "And we're all here to clean up the mess."
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Michael Obus said he believed Salander was remorseful, but added that his crimes were "deplorable" and that the maximum sentence that prosecutors and Salander's attorney agreed to had he not paid restitution was appropriate — six to 18 years behind bars.
When given he chance to speak, Salander apologized to his victims and the families.
"I have lost my life, my business and my reputation," a tearful Salander said. "I am utterly and completely disgraced."