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Fabled New York Art Dealer Mary Boone Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Tax Fraud

Mary Boone at a Public Art Fund gala in New York in 2018.

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After pleading guilty in September to filing false tax returns that claimed she had taken in millions of dollars less than was the reality, Mary Boone—an art dealer with roots in New York’s 1970s-era SoHo scene and galleries in the present in Midtown and Chelsea—was sentenced on Thursday to 30 months in prison in New York’s Southern District Court. She was granted up to one year of supervised release, and once her sentence is completed, she has to serve 180 hours of community service. The sentence falls six months short of the three-year maximum sought by the U.S. attorney’s office.

Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein, who presided over the sentencing, said that Boone was eligible for up to one year of her sentence to be served under supervised release. He said that her community service hours must be served through the New York Department of Education, through which she would help facilitate programs devoted to visual arts education for children. The judge said he expected Boone, who must surrender herself on or before May 15, to be in prison until 2021, with the prospect of additional time served outside of jail after.

In a statement, Geoffrey S. Berman, the Manhattan U.S. attorney, said, “As Manhattan art gallery owner Mary Boone has admitted, her personal tax returns were more a work of impressionism than realism. Seemingly in order from afar, the picture Boone painted of her profits, losses, and expenses was, upon closer inspection, a palette of lies and misrepresentations mixed together to avoid paying over $3 million in taxes.”

Tim Rollins (left) and Mary Boone (right) at a party for Rollins’s exhibition at Mary Boone Gallery in New York in 1995.

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In a statement of her own read to the court in advance of the sentencing, Boone said, “I feel like a pariah,” adding that “I promise to be the best person that I can and to do good and affect lives in a positive way.” She apologized to the court, her family, and her colleagues, and said she had to resign from various organizations of which she was a part, including the Art Dealers Association of America, because of her legal woes. (A spokesperson for the ADAA declined to comment.)

Boone, now 67 years old, said she was nervous as she began reading her statement in court. As Judge Hellerstein read her sentence, she bowed her head in shame.

Thursday’s sentencing included a defense from one of Boone’s lawyers, Robert S. Fink, who attempted to gain leniency from the judge by citing previous claims of preexisting mental illness and Boone’s struggles with alcoholism and drug addiction. She “has had so much thrown on her, so [many] disadvantages,” Fink said, adding that Boone has been “ostracized” over the course of the six-year-long investigation into her tax returns.

Judge Hellerstein seemed incredulous, asking Fink, “What’s the illness that causes people to steal?”

In documents filed in September, the United States attorney’s office said that Boone had used $1.6 million in funds from her gallery for her own uses. Around $800,000 allegedly went toward a renovation of her Manhattan apartment, while some $120,000 was, according to the U.S. attorney’s office filing, used to rent another Manhattan space where she and her son stayed while work was done on her home.

In December, months after the dealer pleaded guilty, lawyers for Boone submitted a psychological evaluation to the court claiming early childhood trauma as a cause of her tax evasion. The 237-page report included letters in support of Boone from such high-profile art-world figures as artist Ai Weiwei (whom Boone’s gallery represents), Performa founder RoseLee Goldberg, and Pace Gallery chairman Arne Glimcher. That same month, prosecutors responded by saying she was “motivated by greed” and calling for a three-year jail sentence.

This is not Boone’s first run-in with the law. In 2016 actor Alec Baldwin sued Boone, alleging that she had knowingly sold him a fake Ross Bleckner painting. That case was settled out of court, and ended with Boone paying Baldwin at least $1 million, according to a New York Times report. In 1999, Boone was charged with the unlawful distribution of ammunition and resisting arrest at her Midtown gallery, where she was showing work by the artist Tom Sachs that included handmade shotguns and bullets.

Boone first opened her gallery in New York’s SoHo neighborhood in 1977. She quickly became a success thanks to an artist stable that included, in its early days, David Salle and Julian Schnabel. By the end of 1982, Boone had appeared on the cover of New York magazine, which called her “The New Queen of the Art Scene.” In 1996, her gallery moved to Midtown Manhattan, where it continues to maintain a space, and in 2000, it began operating a second venue in Chelsea. Her gallery’s roster now includes Bleckner, Barbara Kruger, Ryan McNamara, and Barry Le Va, among others.

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