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Former Sotheby's Chairman Convicted - 2001-12-06


The former chairman of Sotheby's auction house has been convicted of a price-fixing scheme, cheating sellers of fine art out of more than $400 million. The antitrust trial concluded in a Manhattan federal court Wednesday. The verdict came a day and a half after the jury got the case. The former chairman of Sotheby's, Alfred Taubman, had tried during the trial to put the blame for the price-fixing scheme on the star witness against him, former Sotheby's chief executive Diana Brooks, once billed as the most powerful woman in the art world.

Ms. Brooks pleaded guilty last year to try to get herself a deal that would not include jail time.

Defense attorneys tried to brand her as a "walking reasonable doubt." But the jury believed her and found her former boss guilty of conspiring with rival auction house Christie's to charge identical commissions over a period of about six years. This means art sellers were denied the right to negotiate a better deal.

Alfred Taubman is 76 years old. He is looking at a possible three years in jail.

Sotheby's and Christie's have already agreed to pay customers in a class action suit, a settlement of more than $500 million. But this did not spare the former Sotheby's chairman from having to face criminal charges.

Former Christie's chairman Anthony Tennant, has refused to come to the United States to stand trial. Antitrust cases are not covered by extradition treaties.

The Sotheby's trial was huge. It centered on one of the most powerful figures in the global art world, after a four-year investigation to expose the price-fixing scheme.

Sotheby's and Christie's together control more than 90 percent of the world's art auctions.

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