Ex-chairman of Sotheby's sentenced to year in prison

Taubman was convicted of conspiring to fix auction commissions

April 23, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

NEW YORK - Former Sotheby's Holdings Inc. Chairman A. Alfred Taubman was sentenced yesterday to a year in federal prison for conspiring with Christie's International PLC to fix commissions on art, antiques, and other valuables.

Defense lawyers had urged U.S. District Judge George Daniels to spare the 78-year-old Taubman a jail term and sentence him to probation, noting his poor health and philanthropy. Prosecutors asked for the maximum: three years in prison.

"This was a deceitful, secretive, criminal scheme whose object and purpose was illegal profits," Daniels said. "This was not a crime motivated by desperation or need, but by arrogance and greed."

Daniels also ordered Taubman to pay a $7.5 million fine.

The judge said Taubman showed no contrition for his crimes and portrayed himself as a victim of perjury and lies.

"He has neither acknowledged any personal responsibility, nor shown any remorse," Daniels said. "No one is above the law."

Daniels initially ordered Taubman to serve one year. He later agreed to a request by defense attorney Robert B. Fiske Jr. to add a day to the sentence, making Taubman eligible to be released early for good behavior while in prison. He must report to prison authorities by Aug. 1.

Outside the federal courthouse in Manhattan, Taubman declined to comment. He walked slowly through a crowd of photographers and shoved at least one as he entered a black Range Rover before being driven away.

Taubman, the controlling shareholder in Sotheby's, was convicted of plotting with his counterpart at Christie's, Sir Anthony Tennant, to rig sellers' fees. Clients of the world's two leading auction houses paid $43 million in inflated commissions, the government said.

Prosecutors relied on testimony from the auctioneers' former top executives to trace a six-year conspiracy in which Sotheby's and Christie's, once bitter rivals, colluded to stifle competition.

Taubman's lawyers had urged Daniels to be lenient. In court papers, they chronicled Taubman's rise from "humble beginnings" in Pontiac, Mich., to his creation of a "real estate empire" that ranks as one of the nation's most successful.

Taubman stepped down as chairman of Taubman Centers Inc. after his conviction Dec. 5. He founded the company in 1950, pioneering shopping malls along with Edward DeBartolo and brothers Mel and Herb Simon of Indianapolis.

Tennant, Christie's former chairman, was indicted but refused to stand trial in the United States. As a citizen of Great Britain, where price-fixing isn't illegal, he can't be extradited.

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