- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 23, 2002

NEW YORK (AP) The former chairman of Sotheby's auction house was sentenced to a year in prison and fined $7.5 million yesterday for his role in a price-fixing scheme that exposed cutthroat tactics in the fine arts world.
"Regardless of what height we may attain in life, no one is above the law," U.S. District Judge George Daniels told 78-year-old multimillionaire A. Alfred Taubman. "Price fixing is a crime whether it is committed in a local grocery store or the halls of a great auction house."
Taubman, chairman of Sotheby's from 1983 to 2000, was convicted in December of antitrust violations for conspiring with his counterpart at Christie's to set nonnegotiable commission rates for customers who sell artworks through the two auction houses. The two auction houses control more than 90 percent of the world's art auctions.
Prosecutors said Taubman overcharged Sotheby's sellers $43.8 million over six years.
The defense had asked that Taubman receive no prison time. Besides citing his poor health and his civic and charitable contributions, Taubman's attorneys portrayed him as someone who dozed during important meetings and lacked a grasp of finance needed for a complex conspiracy. Prosecutors had sought three years behind bars.
Taubman, wearing earphones to help him hear the proceeding, expressed no emotion as the judge faulted him for portraying himself as a victim of a "vicious scheme" by subordinates who later turned on him to save themselves from prison.
"There is a lack of contrition demonstrated here," the judge said.
Taubman, of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., made no statement in court or afterward.
Ralph T. Giordano, chief of the New York office of the Justice Department's antitrust division, which prosecuted the case, said: "The sentence speaks for itself. There's nothing we could add to what the judge said."
Prosecutors said Taubman worked with former Christie's Chairman Anthony Tennant, 71. Mr. Tennant lives in England and has refused to come to the United States for trial. He cannot be extradited on antitrust charges.
Customers who turn their artworks over to Sotheby's or Christie's for auction have to pay a commission on the sale price.
Taubman, who is worth more than $640 million, drew support from such dignitaries as former President Ford, who said he had been friends with Taubman for about 40 years and was honored to know him. Excerpts from some of the letters were read in court by Taubman's attorney.

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