Former gallery owner Douglas Chrismas has been ordered to repay $14.2 million in profits from the sale of artwork from his former gallery that he diverted to personal accounts. The summary judgment rendered on May 4 by the US Central District Court of California marks another low point for a dealer who once moved to the highest echelons of the art market.
Chrismas was considered at the forefront of the Los Angeles art scene in the 1980s and 1990s, curating exhibitions for artists such as Robert Motherwell, Michael Heizer and Robert Irwin at his now defunct Ace Gallery. But financial problems overtook his reputation, and Chrismas was repeatedly sued by his artists for non-payment and theft of artwork, while his landlords sought to recover unpaid rent. By 2006, he had filed for bankruptcy 11 times, preventing creditors from collecting the money owed to them.
In 2013, Chrismas again filed for bankruptcy, but continued to run Ace Gallery until 2016, when bankruptcy trustee and forensic accountant Sam Leslie was put in charge of the business. Leslie discovered that a total of approximately $17 million had been transferred to two accounts known as “ACE New York” and “ACE Museum”. Both organizations were shell corporations controlled by Chrismas. Additionally, in the midst of the changing of the guard, Chrismas had at least 60 works of art that had not been considered in his bankruptcy filing, transferred to private storage.
Last summer, Chrismas was arrested in Los Angeles by the FBI on embezzlement charges related to the embezzlement of funds from his bankruptcy case, totaling approximately $260,000. While the federal case was unfolding, Leslie had filed a civil lawsuit seeking to recover the sales profit that Chrismas had transferred to personal accounts. On May 4, after five years of investigation, the U.S. Central District Court in California ruled in Leslie’s favor. Summary judgment — which is often given when a case includes overwhelming and undeniable evidence in one party’s favor — was entered instead of a trial, ordering Chrismas to pay $14.2 million.
Although Chrismas has tried to keep his footing in the art world by continuing to deal with works by lesser-known artists throughout his recent legal troubles, Leslie’s representatives at law firm SulmeyerKupetz insist that all funds recovered will be distributed to plaintiffs in summary judgment. . Leslie’s attorneys added that there was no way to know how their client’s victory in the civil suit would affect Chrismas’ upcoming criminal case. If convicted of all federal charges, he will face a maximum of 15 years in prison.
Noel’s attorneys had not responded to requests for comment at press time.
Even at the height of his career, Chrismas was no stranger to scandal. He had ties to a notorious scammer Ron Levindied under mysterious circumstances during the Billionaire Boys Club murders in 1984. He was also involved in a Billion Dollar International Art Fraud Case after selling a smuggled Roy Lichtenstein in 2007.