Federal prosecutors have accused Peter Brandemartis, a Manhattan art dealer and art collector, of participating in a $86 million theft from art dealer Robert Becker. This article originally appeared on
Art Dealer Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud Charges in $86 Million Scam
Attorneys for Manhattan art dealer Peter Brandemartis on Wednesday accused Becker of stealing from him and other major art dealers before he died. In return, the attorney described an elaborate scheme in which Becker demanded artwork worth millions of dollars for which he allegedly received only a fraction of his true value.
Judge Jed Rakoff said the conduct amounted to wire fraud in Manhattan federal court as federal prosecutors announced that Brandemartis, 67, had pleaded guilty to the charges. Brandemartis will remain free until the outcome of sentencing proceedings before Rakoff on Dec. 14.
At Brandemartis’s request, Rakoff ordered him to forfeit some $100 million in artwork, coins and the proceeds of Ponzi schemes related to art and jewelry. Some of the art, most of which was displayed on the gallery walls of his spacious Upper East Side home, has not been recovered.
Brandemartis, who said he was in the inserterial early stages of dementia, pleaded guilty to wire fraud and money laundering. He pleaded not guilty to an additional charge of conspiracy to commit murder for hire. Prosecutors said Brandemartis hired two hit men to kill the seller of an art gallery—his longtime friend, Michael Alexander, with whom Brandemartis was in a domestic relationship.
The two men allegedly robbed Alexander of $16 million in cash and jewelry after he came under the watchful eye of the two hit men. The pain suffered by Alexander was not described in court papers, but Brandemartis is accused of having the men stab the victim. He is also accused of hiring a hit man to kill another one of his clients who would be difficult to convince to keep the stolen artwork out of the hands of the second man and his family.
David Johnson, Brandemartis’s attorney, said the scheme was a “vast conspiracy” that included two masked gunmen, Becker and Alexander and many others. The money laundering amount is based on about $6 million in stolen jewelry. Johnson said the intended target of the hit man was a woman who would have been difficult to persuade to turn over the jewelry without money.
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Brandyemartis told Becker he was talking about some sort of tax law that he believed would force him to sell his artworks at a loss, and that he wanted to hold onto the paintings.
But federal prosecutors say the scheme, which lasted for years, was to sell paintings for dramatically higher amounts than what the buyers actually received from galleries. After the agents completed the robberies, the art dealers learned they had been swindled and forged by Becker, Alexander and Brandemartis, federal authorities allege.
Alexander’s fiancee said she had not heard of the case until Rakoff informed her of it. Asked about the alleged murder for hire, she said she didn’t know of Alexander since they had split up years ago.
Brandyemartis was the New York dealer to several of the world’s most famous artists, including Andy Warhol, who had 14 of his paintings in the Lower East Side Gallery.
Brandyemartis told Becker that he wanted to sell warhol’s “Americana” for an “astronomical” price, Assistant U.S. Attorney Claire Rabin described in court papers.
Brandyemartis then allegedly sold those paintings to Becker for $9 million, in cash and from the gallery. In exchange, Brandemartis allegedly received a fraction of the sums he claimed to have received. According to an indictment, Brandemartis received $6 million from Becker for a set of Warhol’s “Jackson Pollock” paintings, then cashed them.
After Becker became troubled by the relationship, he told the art dealer he was ready to file for bankruptcy, investigators said.
But Becker continued to give Brandemartis cash—in amounts of $3,000 to $10,000 a week, federal prosecutors alleged.
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