He traveled in private jets, looting $7,000 in costumes and orchestrating multimillion-dollar art deals that made him extravagantly rich. But it all depended on lies; the money — all $86 million — was plucked from partners and confidants in an elaborate ruse that was always doomed to failure.
On Monday, former art world prodigy Inigo Philbrick accepted his long-dormant fate: 84 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. He had pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud last fall.
Speaking before Judge Sidney Stein, the 34-year-old blamed his crimes on “vanity and greed.”
“I was trying to find a way to live a life that wasn’t true,” he said.
According to a November press release announcing his plea of guilty, including $86 million in restitution, Philbrick “deliberately misrepresented ownership of certain works of art, for example, by selling a total of more than 100 percent ownership of a work of art to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge” and by borrowing against works of art without notifying co-owners.
Last month, in a pre-trial memo, the government had requested that Philbrick receive a prison sentence “significantly higher” than the roughly 22 months he had already spent behind bars. Still, they acknowledged that he had cooperated with the authorities and asked for a sentence under the sentences of 121 to 151 months.
Philbrick’s lawyers lobbied for a reduced sentence, citing what they described as a difficult childhood and long-term substance abuse problems.
According to their memo, Philbrick found out as a teenager that his father was having an affair with his secretary, an offense that caused his parents to split up. Philbrick, his mother and his sister later lived in a neighbor’s garage for some time because of their financial insecurity, the lawyers said.
Prior to the divorce, the memorandum added, Philbrick had started smoking marijuana and over time expanded his tastes to harder drugs such as ecstasy, ketamine and cocaine. Until a few years ago, he also drank daily until drunkenness, according to the lawyers. The over-indulgence, they argued, was a required part of “how art transactions are done.”
During Monday’s hearing, Judge Stein rejected the idea that Philbrick’s sophisticated fraud had been caused by his parents’ divorce. “That didn’t make him a criminal,” he said.
The judge also pushed back Philbrick’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman’s argument that the high-profile nature of the case itself was a mitigating factor.
He was more open to arguments about Philbrick’s collaboration with the government. The defendant’s pre-conviction memo noted that Philbrick had offered behind-the-scenes information that the FBI hoped could lead to charges for other crimes; Lichtman suggested Monday that Philbrick had even offered to risk his life in one case.
The information never got out, but the meetings nonetheless required personal sacrifices, the lawyers argued in the memo. Due to coronavirus restrictions, Philbrick had to quarantine after each meeting; during one of those instances, his fiancé gave birth and he was left “without access to a phone or email”. He has yet to meet his one-year-old daughter.
As she waited for a ride after sentencing, Philbrick’s fiancé, Victoria Baker-Harber, blamed some of his decimated reputation on “messed up press.” She declined to answer additional questions from The Daily Beast.
Outside the courthouse, as a tabloid photographer clucked, Lichtman called the outcome a “severe punishment compared to other crimes,” although he acknowledged that there has also been “no crime with the amount of fraud this one has had.”
Philbrick had risen rapidly in the art world. After graduating from Goldsmiths, University of London, he did an internship at White Cube, a prestigious contemporary gallery in London founded by Jay Jopling.
Eventually, after taking on a more formal role with White Cube, Philbrick went on to open his own gallery, reportedly with some capital from Jopling. In 2015, prosecutors later claimed that the child prodigy teamed up with his mentor to fund a $3.5 million deal for a 2009 Christopher Wool painting.
Philbrick alleged to Jopling that he “sold” their stake in the piece to several investors, in addition to half their stake in another item, though he didn’t forward any of the funds that should have come in.
Jopling urged his protégé for answers. To save time, the memo alleged, Philbrick “invented a fake name and email account” of an alleged South American investor named Martin Herrero, who spent making up excuses for the delays.
Jopling, like other similar victims of Philbrick, never got his money. He ended up $1.95 million in the hole, the memorandum said.
As his misadventures mounted, Philbrick fled to Vanuatu in the South Pacific, where he played tennis and bore his real name. “He seemed very relaxed,” a resident told The Daily Beast last year. “Philbrick and his girlfriend came along the beach to visit the Beach Bar for food and drinks. They also had a very cute puppy that would play with the other little local dogs.”
But in the summer of 2020, the island adventure came to an end. Authorities took him into custody in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, while he was wearing his bathing suit.
On Monday, while Philbrick waited to learn his fate, he tried to convey remorse for the entire debacle: “The only goal I have is to make whole the people who believed in me.”
Now some of his victims will spend years trying to recoup their losses, fighting each other for whatever value is left in his possession, after Philbrick – their former partner or dealer or friend – handed them giant bags of hot air.