The former secretary to Imelda Marcos, the one-time First Lady of the Philippines, has been sentenced to serve between two and six years in prison for tax evasion and ordered to pay the State of New York $3.5 million in taxes after she was accused of stealing and illegally selling a painting by the French Impressionist master Claude Monet for $28 million.
The painting actually belonged to the Philippine government, according to prosecutors. Imelda Marcos fled to the United States when her husband, longtime president Ferdinand Marcos, was deposed in 1986 amid allegations of vote rigging that led to massive protests. She famously left behind 1,060 pairs of shoes in the presidential palace. Ferdinand Marcos died in 1989, and his widow took up residence in New York.
The New York State Department of Taxation and Finance said Tuesday that Vilma Bautista, the former secretary to Imelda Marcos, was sentenced on January 13 in New York Supreme Court. A Manhattan jury had found Bautista, 75, guilty last November of first-degree criminal tax fraud, fourth-degree conspiracy, and first-degree offering a false instrument for filing.
Bautista had sold one of the paintings in Monet’s Water Lilies series, “Le Bassin aux Nympheas,” for $28 million, but the sale was not reported as income on Bautista’s 2010 personal income tax return. As a result she was ordered by the court to pay New York State $3.5 million in taxes on the sale.
Mrs. Marcos amassed a large art collection, including works that she claimed to be purchasing on behalf of the Philippine government. Many of the artworks disappeared from her townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side around the time that the Marcos regime was collapsing in the Philippines and the whereabouts were unknown until Bautista and two of her nephews began trying to quietly sell the paintings in 2010.
The Tax Department’s Criminal Investigations Division worked closely on the investigation and prosecution of the case with the office of Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr.
“We commend District Attorney Vance for his successful prosecution of this extraordinary case,” said Commissioner of Taxation of Finance Thomas H. Mattox in a statement. “We will continue to work with all levels of law enforcement to bring individuals who commit tax crimes to justice.”