Leigh Morse, former director of Salander-O’Reilly Galleries on the Upper East Side, has been found guilty of defrauding clients, a felony conviction, in the $120-million scheme that brought down one of New York’s most influential blue-chip galleries. Following a month-long trial in New York State Supreme Court, a jury found that the 55-year-old Morse had fraudulently sold over 80 artworks from artists’ estates without notification or compensation.
Commenting on the ruling, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance said in a press statement that Morse and gallery owner Lawrence Salander “systematically looted the estates of her clients over a period of many years.” He said that “because the art industry is largely unregulated, it is particularly important to hold accountable those who fraudulently handle works of art entrusted to them.”
Salander pled guilty to 30 felony counts of grand larceny and on Aug. 3, 2010, was sentenced to 6 to 18 years in prison. Among those who sought restitution are John McEnroe, Robert de Niro and hedge fund manager Roy Lennox. (The gallery had managed the estate of Robert de Niro, Sr., the actor’s father.) In the case of McEnroe, Salander fraudulently sold a half-interest in a Gorky painting to the tennis star.
Morse began working at Salander-O’Reilly Galleries, in 1995. The district attorney proved that she intentionally misled clients and failed to disclose the status of works they had consigned to the gallery. As a result, the estates were unaware of and therefore unable to request payment or the return of the works, even though Morse took commissions on the sales.
Morse is scheduled to be sentenced on June 6.
Photo: Leigh Morse, right, leaving court with Andrew M. Lankler, her lawyer, on March 18.