New York gallery owner admits guilt in $86 million Ponzi scheme

A New York art dealer pleaded guilty to wire fraud charges on Friday in connection with an $86 million Ponzi scheme that prosecutors say she ran out of her Williamsburg, Brooklyn, gallery.

The securities investigation by the New York Attorney General’s Office uncovered a wide range of fraud, including the sale of commercial artwork that never existed, while relocating high-ranking stock portfolio managers to wealthy overseas clients who were none the wiser, according to a Friday statement from the office.

The art dealer, Sara Gottlieb, 55, pleaded guilty in Manhattan federal court to wire fraud and money laundering charges. She faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine when she is sentenced in June.

“Gottlieb exploited her clients’ trust, hiding her past as a convicted felon, prior conviction, and an unsecured credit line from a New York bank,” said Attorney General Barbara Underwood. “She relied on her clients’ impeccable reputations to profit, and at the end of the day, she left her victims without the life’s work they had put their trust in. Thanks to the diligent work of our office, we’ve put Gottlieb behind bars.”

She also faces charges from the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services alleging that she engaged in a pattern of misconduct and forced her employees to commit acts against their will.

The Securities and Exchange Commission alleged in June that Gottlieb and two co-defendants defrauded at least a dozen clients out of more than $9 million, including filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola, by telling them they were purchasing artwork with commissions and collection rights they did not own.

Eldad Yaniv and Leonard Hanoch, the co-owners of Independent Finance Holdings, have also been accused of running similar Ponzi schemes, according to filings with the SEC.

Yaniv and Ganwich own newly formed businesses, including investment companies, energy sources, and real estate investments. All of the operations listed use the name of independent finance and borrow from Gottlieb or Independent Finance Holding and deny she has any involvement.

Hanoch is a board member at New York’s Museum of the Moving Image and teaches at Brooklyn College, according to his LinkedIn page.

Karin Guinn, a spokeswoman for Independent Finance Holdings, declined to comment on the charges against Ganwich and Yaniv, noting that the company has an attorney who will be responsible for any questions. The two investors are no longer involved in the company and have no management duties, she said.

A 2015 indictment against Gottlieb and one other man, Robert Frost, charged them with scheming to defraud between $4 million and $7 million from local investors, including Coppola, by falsely claiming that they had invested the funds in commercial art. Frost pleaded guilty in 2016 to multiple criminal charges, including wire fraud and money laundering. He is serving 2 years in prison, according to court documents.

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