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NYC gallery owner Mary Boone sentenced to prison for tax fraud

Prosecutors called Mary Boone's scheme to evade more than $3 million in taxes "brazen."

Mary Boone, shown in Los Angeles, Calif., on

Mary Boone, shown in Los Angeles, Calif., on Nov. 14, 2009, plead guilty in 2018 to two counts of tax fraud. Photo Credit: Charley Gallay

Mary Boone, the owner of one of Manhattan’s premier art galleries, was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on Thursday in Manhattan federal court for what prosecutors called a “brazen” scheme to evade more than $3 million in taxes.

Brushing aside claims that Boone was mentally ill instead of greedy and might be a suicide risk in prison, U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein also ordered the longtime owner of the Mary Boone Gallery to do 180 hours of community service upon release, training city teachers on visual arts.

“If I don’t sentence her to custody, what kind of defendants should I sentence to custody?” Hellerstein asked. “How can I sentence someone to jail for narcotics, and not sentence someone to jail for tax fraud?”

Boone, 67, of Manhattan, who has operated galleries in midtown and Chelsea since the 1970s, pleaded guilty last year to two counts of tax fraud. She is best known for introducing the work of prominent artists such as Julian Schnabel and the late Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Prosecutors said from 2009 to 2011 she claimed phony business expenses and diverted the money to personal needs — including $700,000 to remodel one apartment, $120,000 to rent a second, and thousands spent on salons, jewelry and luxury accessories — and also diverted sales taxes paid by customers.

“Her personal tax returns were more a work of Impressionism than realism,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman in a statement. “Seemingly in order from afar, the picture Boone painted of her profits, losses and expenses was, upon closer inspection, a palette of lies.”

Boone, who wanted to do no jail time and put her head in her hands as Hellerstein announced the sentence, told the judge she was “saddened, humbled and heartbroken” as well as “remorseful.”

“My bad decisions have brought shame and suffering to me and my family, and I wish I could undo what I have done,” she said. “But I can’t.”

Her lawyer, Robert Fink, said that as a result of poverty and trauma as a child Boone suffered from mental illness through her life, leading to alcohol and cocaine addictions that she overcame, and lifelong depression, anxiety, paranoia and excessive fear that she would end up penniless.

“Mary’s crime was not motivated by greed,” he argued. “Mary’s crime was caused by mental illness.”

“Was it an illness that causes certain people to steal?” Hellerstein asked at one point, adding later, “You can’t say she didn’t know what she was doing was wrong, and you can’t say she was compelled to do anything.”

Boone and her gallery were previously the subject of a high-profile lawsuit by actor Alec Baldwin, who claimed she defrauded him by selling him a copy instead of the original of a painting by artist Ross Bleckner. The suit settled for an undisclosed seven-figure sum.

After the sentence, Fink said Boone was “disappointed” at the sentence, and likely would have to close her galleries, which employ 29. She was ordered to surrender to begin her sentence by May 15. Hellerstein said she should be out in time to start helping city schools by June 2021.

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