Inigo Philbrick, a dealer accused of defrauding dealers and investors millions of dollars, was today sentenced by a New York court to seven years in prison, ending a saga that has taken the art world by storm.
Last November, about a year after being detained by US authorities on the island of Vanuatu, the 34-year-old dealer pleaded guilty to telephone fraud and told a New York court that he was doing it for the money. As part of the plea deal, Philbrick forfeited $86 million and two paintings.
He was also charged with identity theft.
Philbrick first faced the charges in 2019, when deep-seated members of art firms alleged that he deliberately covered up his practices while making deals with artworks worth millions of dollars.
Authorities have said that before his plan failed, Philbrick defrauded dealers, investors and collectors with huge sums of money.
Once seen as an up-and-coming figure in the art market, Philbrick was mentored by Jay Jopling at the White Cube gallery in London, eventually striking out on his own by opening a now-defunct gallery in Miami. Jopling had provided seed money to that gallery when it first opened.
US authorities accused Philbrick of using falsified data to conduct his transactions, allegedly even having a “stolen seller identity” on a contract. Investigators have also said that he sold works without first telling their owners.
The first case brought against Philbrick revolved around an installation by Yayoi Kusama’s “Infinity Room” and other works that Philbrick allegedly withheld from a German art firm. Another suit from a separate art firm focused on a painting by Rudolf Stingel that was once valued at over $6 million.
Today, Philbrick and his attorneys made a last-ditch appeal in court to Judge Sidney H. Stein in a bid to reduce his jail term.
“He didn’t come to the art scene as a fully formed individual,” Jeffrey Lichtman, an attorney representing Philbrick, told Judge Stein. “He just arrived as a young person who listened and watched and learned, eventually evolving into what happened today.”
At one point, Judge Stein, seemingly fed up with Lichtman’s 45-minute defense of Philbrick, told Lichtman, “He’s got a lot of good qualities — and he’s committed a serious crime. I understand.”
In an emotional statement of his own, read to the court, Philbrick expressed “repentance and grief for the damage” he had done to those around him. He said he had been in solitary confinement when his daughter was born in 2020 and that Monday’s sentencing would help him “close a door on nearly a decade of my life”.
Referring to the internship he got with White Cube in his early twenties, he said: “Twelve years ago I was offered a role in the art world that was offered with great esteem. It also took trickery.”
Later, deviating from his pre-written statement, Philbrick said, “The only goal I have is to make whole the people who believed in me.”
When asked why he behaved this way by Judge Stein, Philbrick replied, “Vanity and greed…I was trying to live a life that wasn’t true.”
A U.S. government representative told the court that investigators had received 16 requests for restitution for works Philbrick had retained, a number that is expected to grow.
Philbrick’s sentence was less than the recommended minimum sentence of 121 months, or just over 10 years. Judge Stein said he would beg those who incarcerate him to get Philbrick out of an “urban jail” and put him in a new facility.
“Mr. Philbrick, I don’t think I’ll be seeing you again,” Judge Stein said after sentencing. “I would urge you to use your time in prison as effectively as possible.”
In addition to the sentencing, Judge Stein ordered a medical examination of a mole on Philbrick’s face.