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LA Art Dealer Perry Rubenstein Arrested for Grand Theft

The Los Angeles art dealer and gallery owner Perry Rubenstein was arrested in Santa Monica yesterday on three felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement, reports Matt Hamilton of the LA Times. The charges were filed on behalf of art collectors Michael Ovitz and Michael Salke. The prosecutors requested that Rubenstein be held on $1 million bail.

Cofounder of the talent agency Creative Artists Agency and former president of the Walt Disney Company, Michael Ovitz filed two of the felony counts against Rubenstein. Supposedly, Rubenstein had agreed to sell two of Ovitz’s Richard Prince works that are valued at more than $1 million. In May 2013, Rubenstein arranged to sell Untitled (de Kooning), 2006, to a buyer in Mexico for $500,000. In an affidavit written in 2014, Ovitz claims that months after the transaction took place he had not received any of the profits. It is unclear if he has been compensated at all since then. Ovitz discovered that Rubenstein had also sold the second work Nobody Home, 1992, for $475,000 without Ovitz’s permission.

The other charge was filed by collector Michael Salke who had agreed to let Rubenstein sell a scroll titled The World of Sphere, 2003, by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for $750,000. Rubenstein told Salke he sold the work for $630,000 to an unidentified buyer. He then proceeded to pay Salke a total of $575,000 in installments and attempted to raise his commission by $20,000. This prompted Salke to file his lawsuit. He later learned that Rubenstein sold the scroll to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The Foundation paid $825,000 for the work.

Rubenstein’s gallery declared bankruptcy in 2014. He owes a slew of creditors money, and his debts amount to over $5.4 million.

In a declaration Rubenstein filed for the Salke lawsuit in October, he said, “I have been rendered penniless. I take full responsibility for this taking place and do not blame anyone else.”

However, in response to the charges, Rubenstein’s lawyer, Stephen Sitkoff, said, “We deny all these allegations and look forward to clearing his name and getting his reputation back. There's no criminal conduct on Perry’s part.”