Inigo Philbrick, a dealer accused of defrauding dealers and investors out of millions of dollars, was sentenced to seven years in prison by a New York court today, bringing a saga that has taken the art world by storm to an end.
Last November, about a year after being detained by U.S. authorities on the island of Vanuatu, the 34-year-old dealer pleaded guilty to wire fraud, telling a New York court that he did it for the money. As part of the plea deal, Philbrick forfeited $86 million and two paintings.
He had also been indicted on identity theft charges.
Philbrick first faced the allegations in 2019, when deep-pocketed members of art firms claimed that he had deliberately obscured his practices while conducting deals involving artworks worth millions of dollars.
Authorities have said that, before his scheme came apart, Philbrick defrauded dealers, investors, and collectors out of vast sums of money.
Once seen to be a rising figure within the art market, Philbrick had been mentored by Jay Jopling at White Cube gallery in London, and eventually struck out on his own, opening a gallery in Miami that is now defunct. Jopling had provided seed money to that gallery when it first opened.
U.S. authorities accused Philbrick of using faked records to conduct his transactions, allegedly even listing a “stolen identity as the seller” on a contract on one occasion. Investigators have also said he sold works without first telling those who owned them.
The first case to emerge against Philbrick centered around a Yayoi Kusama “Infinity Room” installation and other works that Philbrick allegedly withheld from a German art firm. Another suit brought by a separate art firm focused on a Rudolf Stingel painting that was once valued at more than $6 million.
In court today, Philbrick and his lawyers made a last-ditch appeal to Judge Sidney H. Stein in an attempt to lessen his prison sentence.
“He didn’t arrive to the art scene as a fully formed individual,” Jeffrey Lichtman, a lawyer representing Philbrick, told Judge Stein. “He just arrived as a young person who listened and watched and learned, and eventually evolved into what happened today.”
At one point, Judge Stein, seemingly fed up with Lichtman’s 45-minute-long defense of Philbrick, said to Lichtman, “He has a lot of good qualities—and he committed a serious crime. I understand.”
In an emotional statement of his own read aloud to the court, Philbrick expressed “remorse and sorrow for the damage” that he had caused to those around him. He said that he had been in solitary confinement when his daughter was born in 2020 and that the sentencing on Monday would help him in “closing a door on an almost-10-year-long period of my life.”
Referring to the internship he got at White Cube when he was in his early 20s, he said, “Twelve years ago, I was offered a role in the art world that came with great prestige. It also required deception.”
Later, diverging from his prewritten statement, Philbrick said, “The only goal I have is to make the people who believed in me whole.”
Asked why he behaved in the way he did by Judge Stein, Philbrick responded, “Vanity and greed…. I tried to lead a life that wasn’t true.”
A representative for the U.S. government told the court that investigators had received 16 restitution requests for works that Philbrick had been keeping, a number that is expected to grow.
“Inigo Philbrick grew his purportedly successful art business by collateralizing and reselling fractional shares in high dollar contemporary art,” U.S. attorney Damian Williams said in a statement. “Unfortunately, his success was built on brazen lies, including concealed ownership interests, fake documents, and even an invented art collector.”
The sentence Philbrick was given was below the recommended minimum sentence of 121 months, or just over 10 years. Judge Stein said he would implore those incarcerating him to move Philbrick out of an “urban prison” and place him with a new institution.
“Mr. Philbrick, I don’t think I’m going to see you again,” Judge Stein said following the sentencing. “I would just urge you to use your time in prison as effectively as you can.”
In addition to the sentencing, Judge Stein ordered a medical examination of a mole on Philbrick’s face.