Inigo Philbrick may be a thief, but at least he’s honest.
The former London art dealer, who was sentenced to seven years in prison on Monday after pleading guilty to a criminal charge of wire fraud, did not hesitate last year when a federal court judge in Manhattan ruled asked why he defrauded clients out of some $86 million. .
“For the money, your honor.”
The 33-year-old will be locked up for defrauding buyers and stealing multimillion-dollar works of art from the likes of Donald Judd, Christopher Wool and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was captured in the South Pacific following a six-month FBI manhunt
Despite the honesty, “He showed a complete lack of remorse,” attorney Judd Grossman, who represents several clients in civil lawsuits related to Philbrick, told The Post.
For a time, the slippery dealer – born in Connecticut, schooled in London – legitimately sold art at a gallery in that city’s Tony Mayfair neighborhood as well as in Miami.
But his aspirations grew faster than his wallet could keep up.
Philbrick wore $50,000 watches, $5,000 suits and custom shoes. If you dined with him at Cipriani in London, there was no need to wait for a cheque; the dashing art dealer kept an in-house account.
It was a high-flying world, too: According to New York magazine, Philbrick kept supplies of MDMA on hand, rented a villa in Ibiza and got engaged to Victoria Baker-Harber, a top British socialite and reality TV star.
“He needed money to fund his business and, in turn, to fund his lifestyle. He was progressing in his career but not at the speed necessary to maintain his lifestyle,” said Grossman, who practices in New York and specializes in art-related business.
It was then that Philbrick began scamming its customers with a variety of scams. One of the cleverest: selling the same painting to several collectors – none of whom was aware of the interests of the others – before it was put up for public auction.
In a letter to the court, alleged victim Daniel Tumpel – founder of Fine Art Partners, a firm that works in finance for the art world – recalled that Philbrick had come to visit him in Berlin via a private jet and s ‘is equipped around town in a limo. Tumpel claims he later saw bank statements showing that the money paid to Philbrick for the purchase of artwork was in fact used to fund the splashy trip.
Take “Mirror Room,” a work by Japanese artist Yoyai Kusama, which Tumpel, as stated in a letter to the court, purchased in 2017 for $2,310,000, with Philbrick intending to later resell it for a profit.
In 2018, Tumpel saw his “Mirror Room” hung in Philbrick’s gallery around the time of the Art Basel Miami fair. Over the next 10 months, the dealer tricked Tumpel into believing he was “negotiating a possible sale to a Miami museum,” Tumpel wrote in a letter to the court. But “around November 2019, we discovered that Philbrick had sold the work in 2018 [after Art Basel] without informing us.
Tumpel and his company have not been paid, according to the court letter.
After discovering Kusama’s sneaky sale, Tumpel and his wife, Loretta Wurtenberger, grew concerned about the whereabouts of another of their paintings, “Untitled 2010” by post-conceptual artist Christopher Wool. They had paid $4,830,000 for the job, believing Philbrick would sell it for them. When they asked him about it, Philbrick insisted the pain was with him – and provided the kind of evidence famously used to check the vitality of kidnapping victims: he sent a picture of him standing in front of the blackboard and holding a newspaper with the day’s newspaper. date on it.
Tupel was satisfied at the time. Later, he claimed in the letter, he discovered the truth: “The painting was photoshopped into the image…and was no longer in the possession of Philbrick. [at the time]. He had secured it with a loan from Athena Finance, which had stored the painting in their warehouse.
It is one of five coins that Philbrick allegedly used to secure some $15 million in loans. Tumpel wants his wool back and describes his former dealer as “a freezing criminal”.
But it has not always been so. Philbrick grew up in Connecticut, the privileged son of Harry, a museum director who founded the non-profit arts organization Philadelphia Contemporary, and Jane, a self-proclaimed artist-entrepreneur. Philbrick, like his father, attended the prestigious Goldsmith’s University of London, which focuses on arts education. Harry released a statement claiming “no knowledge” of his son’s transgressions.
After graduating, Inigo landed an internship with London art dealer and former Goldsmith Jay Jopling, whose White Cube Gallery fostered Damien Hirst’s career. Although Jopling also put space between himself and Philbrick, he already mentored the burgeoning dealer and offered financial support when Philbrick opened his Mayfair gallery in 2013. This gallery has done well by focusing on the market secondary school of art – by buying works by popular artists such as Wade Guyton, Christopher Wool and Rudolph Stengel from collectors and selling them for a profit.
Philbrick was a fixture at major auctions and emerged as an art world prodigy. “He was a specialist. He wasn’t just some quack who knew nothing about art,” Helly Nahmad, a Manhattan-based art dealer, told The Post. “He had everything he needed to do well.”
But, according to Philbrick’s victims, he lacked integrity. He became involved in buying and promoting works of art of value as fractional investments: people own percentages of the work (and receive potential profits generated from its sale) based on of their investment. But as the deals unfolded, Philbrick’s finances stretched and he began to twist the facts to investors. Sometimes he sold more than 100% of a work and other times he inflated the prices.
This was the case with a painting by Basquiat entitled “Humidity”. According to Grossman, prosecutors alleged that Philbrick approached collector Aleksander “Sasha” Pesko, now represented by Grossman, to help buy the artwork for $18.4 million. The idea, Grossman said, “was that they would contribute to the purchase price and share any profit. Our client thought they had put in half. Then Inigo said they were $3 million short. Our client [ultimately] set up 12 million and was defrauded [when Inigo] transferred it to an offshore entity and used it to borrow money. He lied. We argue that our client owns the painting because he put up almost all of [the purchase price]. Our argument is that you can’t pawn something you don’t own.
Things finally came to a head for Philbrick when a Rudolf Stingel painting, “Untitled,” sold at Christie’s for $5.5 million. It is alleged, by several entities claiming to own the painting, that Philbrick received some $10 million for the painting, secretly selling percentages to several investors – one of whom listed it for sale at Christie’s, believing himself to be the sole owner. But soon others came forward, seeking their cuts from the auction. Civil suits and criminal charges followed.
The pressure is mounting on Philbrick and, according to an inside source, in the fall of 2019 he confessed his wrongdoings to two investors. “He knew he was going to get caught,” the source said. “He confessed to them in detail.”
But in November 2019, when a London judge froze Philbrick’s assets, he was gone. According to the Justice Department, “flight records show that Philbrick left the United States shortly before the public prosecution reports began.”
Federal authorities tracked him to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, about 500 miles west of Fiji, where he was living with a pregnant Baker-Harber. In June 2021, according to ArtNet, while Philbrick and a friend were strolling through an outdoor market, local and global law enforcement surrounded the couple. They demanded to know if he was Inigo. He said he was, and officers tied his wrists, put him in a car, and drove him to an airstrip. Philbrick’s final private jet flight awaited him: a Gulfstream that would fly the fugitive to Guam where FBI agents allegedly arrested the disgraced dealer.
Los Angeles art collector/dealer Stefan Simchowitz, who “made a little deal with [Philbrick] — for a $20,000 painting,” told the Post that the dealer was “a young guy who got in over his head … and was too cool for school. He’s not a big criminal, but he’s a fucking idiot.
His fiancée wrote in court: “He always believed there was a solution instead of facing the problem.”
Meanwhile, Philbrick attorney Jeffrey Lichtman insists the glossy veneer belies a more complex reality. “People look at Inigo and see what they consider to be a wealthy, blue-blooded art dealer,” Lichtman told the Post. “They don’t understand the guy at all… His daughter was born while he was incarcerated. He still hasn’t met her. He suffers in a way that average defendants do not.
Days before sentencing, Grossman reflected on how Philbrick got away with his high-flying schemes: “He was very likeable, very smart, very good at identifying investment opportunities. But he developed relationships of trust and abused them.