Douglas Chrismas, Gallery Owner, Arrested on Embezzlement Charge
LOS ANGELES – Art dealer Douglas Chrismas, who has decades of experience discovering major artists and an equally long history of not paying artists in full for their sales, has been arrested on charges of embezzlement.
Chrismas, 77, surrendered to FBI agents on Tuesday and was released on $ 50,000 bail. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry a sentence of up to 15 years in federal prison. The trial date has been set for September 21.
The indictment, filed on March 16, 2020, was unsealed on Tuesday. In it, Chrismas is accused of redirecting approximately $ 265,000 of funds from the bankruptcy of Ace Gallery, which he opened in Los Angeles in 1967, to a separate company he owned.
Chrismas bankruptcy attorney Jonathan Shenson did not respond to requests for comment this week and it was not clear who represented Chrismas in the criminal case.
Chrismas organized important first exhibitions in her gallery for artists such as Robert Irwin, Michael Heizer, Tim Hawkinson and Mary Corse. But many of his relationships with artists have deteriorated because of his missing payments for works of art sold and his inability to return unsold pieces. The gallery filed for bankruptcy in 2013.
He continued to run the gallery until 2016, when a reorganization plan was approved by the court. A bankruptcy trustee, Sam Leslie, was put in charge of the business, which then consisted of a branch in Beverly Hills and a location in central Wilshire. (Both spaces have since closed.)
Leslie, who specialized in forensic accounting, spent much of her time at Ace sorting through financial transactions and the gallery’s artwork inventory to determine who owed what. According to a report Leslie filed in court in May 2016, he discovered that from February 2013 to February 2016, Chrismas had directed approximately $ 16.9 million from the Los Angeles-based company to Ace New York, a branch of short-lived gallery that had closed years earlier. . Of that sum, according to the report, approximately $ 4.59 million was diverted to an entity known as the Ace Museum.
Leslie’s efforts to recover these funds for creditors continue. “The bankruptcy case is still open and Sam Leslie is still acting as CEO,” his lawyer, Carolyn Dye, said by phone Wednesday.
Dye also noted that there was an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Leslie against Chrismas and other defendants over “these embezzlements resulting from the sale of inventory.”
Asked about the difference in dollar amounts between civil and criminal cases, Dye replied, “You can safely say that the specific criminal charges in the indictment were fruit at hand.”
“But on top of that,” she added, “the Justice Department received mountains of documents that verified the more than $ 16 million in embezzlement, including proceeds from unauthorized sales. paid to artists “.
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