Art dealer Mary Boone gets 30-month jail term for tax fraud

Art dealer Mary Boone, the darling of New York’s throbbing downtown scene in the 1980s, made a splash last year when she pleaded guilty to a years-long tax evasion scheme. Then, instead of a prison term, she asked a judge to sentence her to running her galleries.

It didn’t work.

Boone, who owns and operates galleries on Fifth Avenue and in Chelsea, was sentenced on Thursday to 2 1/2 years in prison by a U.S. judge who called her failure to pay millions of dollars in income tax a “terrible crime.” Boone, in a dark blue jacket and skirt, buried her face in her hands.

She also drew 180 hours of community service, instructing local high school teachers in the visual arts and working with underserved youth.

“This is a serious offense. All people must pay their taxes,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said. “I know this is a substantial disappointment to you, Ms. Boone. I know it hurts you. But I made a special effort to provide not only a custodial but also a community-service sentence.”

Before sentencing, Boone had asked for permission to address the court.

Mary Boone alongside Miami-based art collector Marty Margulies at Sotheby's in New York in 2012
The benefit co-chair, Mary Boone, whose gallery represents the evening’s honoree artist Francesco Clemente, stands with Miami-based art collector Marty Margulies at Sotheby's in New York, U.S., on Thursday, Oct. 18, 2012. Co-founded by Andy Warhol, the New York Academy of Art focuses on traditional methods and techniques of art making. Photographer: Philip Lewis/Bloomberg *** Local Caption *** Mary Boone; Marty Margulies

“I stand before you saddened and heartbroken,” she’d told the judge. “Please know that I’m very remorseful for the bad deeds I have done.” She asked Hellerstein to allow her to remain free to do good works and run her galleries, saying, “I beg your honor to let me go back to work so at least I can make up for what I’ve done.”

Hellerstein did grant a request by her lawyer, Robert Fink, that she be permitted to surrender to prison authorities by May 15 to give her more time to get her affairs in order.

“Mary has to attend to her galleries and close them,” Fink told the court. Later he said, “They might close. I don’t see how they can function without her.”

Prosecutors said Boone’s galleries should have paid more than $1.2 million on $3.7 million in profit for 2011 but instead claimed a tax liability of $335. Boone also used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in personal expenses, including $800,000 to renovate one apartment and $120,000 for rent on a second residence, then claimed the payments as a business expense, they said.

‘New Queen’

Boone, 67, who opened her first gallery 40 years ago, made a name for herself representing hot artists of the 1980s who signaled the return of figurative painting. She graced the cover of a 1982 New York Magazine story titled “The New Queen of the Art Scene.”

A roster of well-known clients like Ai Weiwei, Julian Schnabel and Jeffrey Deitch wrote letters seeking leniency on her behalf. Several lauded Boone for championing female artists while others noted that she played an important role in transforming SoHo into a fashionable neighborhood and developing the High Line, an elevated park on the site of a defunct railway.

Boone helped lay down “the landscape of what we know as art today,” Schnabel wrote. She “treats artists fairly, like family,” said Ai. Ross Bleckner called her “a maverick in a man’s world” and urged the court to recognize Boone’s “personal importance to the people who depend on her.” Boone had begun to exhibit underrepresented female artists, and thus “pays it forward,” Kathe Burkhart wrote.

In her plea for leniency before sentencing, Boone said she’d been ostracized by art colleagues and had her membership in the Century Club revoked. Even her bank told her it wouldn’t have her as a client anymore.

Business was good. Fink said Boone broke the law because she was “driven by a feeling of inevitable doom that blinded her” and had been “chasing success” since her destitute childhood.

Prosecutor Olga Zverovich said the schemes went on for at least three years and that Boone created sham accounts to make it look like her galleries weren’t profitable. Boone spent $300,000 in gallery money at a beauty salon, almost $15,000 on jewelry and nearly $14,000 at Hermes alone, she said.

“There’s no excuse for this type of wrongdoing,” Zverovich said. “It’s brazen, it’s deliberate, it’s expensive and it’s clear it was motivated by greed.”

The case is U.S. v. Boone, 18-cr-634, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan).