The $86M scam that landed art dealer Inigo Philbrick in jail


The $86M scam that landed art dealer Inigo Philbrick in jail

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 charges of wire fraud, didn’t hold back last year when a federal court judge in Manhattan asked why he was charging clients around $86 million have cheated .

“For the money, Your Honor.”

The 33-year-old is jailed for defrauding buyers and stealing millions of dollars worth of artwork from the likes of Donald Judd, Christopher Wool and Jean-Michel Basquiat. He was caught after a six-month FBI manhunt in the South Pacific

Despite the honesty, “he showed a complete lack of remorse,” attorney Judd Grossman, who represents several clients in Philbrick-related civil lawsuits, told The Post.

For a time, the raunchy dealer – born in Connecticut, educated in London – legitimately sold art from a gallery in that city’s trendy Mayfair neighborhood as well as in Miami.

But his ambitions grew faster than his wallet could keep up.

Philbrick lived an extravagant lifestyle with his fiancée, Victoria Baker-Harber.
Philbrick lived an extravagant lifestyle with his fiancée, Victoria Baker-Harber.

Philbrick wore $50,000 watches, $5,000 suits and custom shoes. If you dined with him at the Cipriani in London, you didn’t have to wait for a bill; the handsome art dealer kept a house account.

His world was soaring too: According to New York Magazine, Philbrick reportedly kept MDMA supplies handy, rented a villa in Ibiza and got engaged to Victoria Baker-Harber, a blue-chip British socialite and reality TV star.

“He needed the money to fund his business and therefore his lifestyle. He advanced in his career, but not at the pace necessary to maintain his lifestyle,” said Grossman, who practices in New York City and specializes in arts-related cases.

It was at this point that Philbrick began scamming customers with a series of scams. One of the most cunning: Selling the same painting to multiple collectors—neither of whom knew the other’s interests—before it was publicly auctioned.

According to court documents, the artwork "mirror room" by Japanese artist Yoyai Kusama was sold by Philbrick without informing – or paying – the owners.
According to court documents, Japanese artist Yoyai Kusama’s artwork “Mirror Room” was sold by Philbrick without informing — or paying — the owners.

In a letter to the court, alleged victim Daniel Tumpel – founder of Fine Art Partners, a company active in the art world – recalled Philbrick visiting him in Berlin with a private jet and tools through the city in a limousine. Tumpel claims he later saw bank statements showing that money paid to Philbrick to purchase art was actually used to fund that jaunt.

Take “Mirror Room,” a work by Japanese artist Yoyai Kusama, which Tumpel noted in a letter to the court, was purchased in 2017 for $2,310,000 with the intention that Philbrick would then sell it for a profit.

In 2018 Tumpel saw his “Mirror Room” hanging in Philbrick’s gallery during the Art Basel Miami fair. Over the next 10 months, the dealer led Tumpel to believe he was “negotiating a possible sale to a museum in Miami,” Tumpel wrote in a letter to the court. But “around November 2019, we found out that Philbrick sold the plant in 2018 [after Art Basel] without informing us.”

Tumpel and his company were not paid, according to the court letter.

A fixture at major auctions, Philbrick came across as an art world prodigy.
A fixture at major auctions, Philbrick came across as an art world prodigy.
Clint Spaulding/PMC

After learning of the underhand sale in Kusama, Tumpel and his wife Loretta Wurtenberger became 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 work believing Philbrick would sell it for them. When asked about it, Philbrick insisted the pain was on him – and provided the kind of evidence notoriously used to check the vitality of kidnapping victims: he sent a photo of himself in front of the painting standing holding a newspaper with that day date on it.

Tümpel was content at the time. Later, he claimed in the letter, he found out the truth: “The painting was photoshopped into the image … and was no longer in Philbrick’s possession [at the time]. He had secured it on a loan from Athena Finance, who had kept the painting in their warehouse.”

It’s one of five tracks that allegedly earned Philbrick about $15 million in credit. Tumpel wants his wool back and describes his former dealer as “a stone cold criminal”.

But it wasn’t always like that. Philbrick grew up in Connecticut, the privileged son of Harry, a museum curator who founded the nonprofit arts organization Philadelphia Contemporary, and Jane, a self-proclaimed artist and entrepreneur. Like his father, Philbrick attended the prestigious Goldsmith’s University of London, which focuses on arts education. Harry has released a statement claiming he has “no knowledge” of his son’s transgressions.

Philbrick landed an internship with London art dealer Jay Jopling (above), whose White Cube Gallery is known to have boosted Damien Hirst's career.
Philbrick landed an internship with London art dealer Jay Jopling (above), whose White Cube Gallery is known to have boosted Damien Hirst’s career.
Getty Images

After graduating, Inigo got an internship with London art dealer and Goldsmith graduate Jay Jopling, whose White Cube Gallery is known to have fostered Damien Hirst’s career. Although Jopling has now also put some distance between himself and Philbrick, he was once a mentor to the burgeoning retailer and offered financial support when Philbrick opened his Mayfair gallery in 2013 Wade Guyton, Christopher Wool and Rudolph Stengel from collectors and sell them at a profit.

A fixture at major auctions, Philbrick came across as an art world prodigy. “He was an expert. He wasn’t some charlatan who didn’t know anything about art,” Manhattan-based art dealer Helly Nahmad told the Post. “He had everything he needed to be good.”

But Philbrick’s victims claim he lacks integrity. He was committed to buying and promoting valuable art as fractional investments: people own percentages of work (and receive potential profits from its sale) based on how much they invest. But when deals went awry, Philbrick’s finances grew strained and he began misrepresenting the facts to investors. Sometimes he sold more than 100% of a work and sometimes he raised the price.

Jean-Michel Basquiat's painting Humidity was allegedly involved in a Philbrick scam.
Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painting Humidity was allegedly involved in a Philbrick scam.

Such was the case with a Basquiat painting entitled Moisture. According to Grossman, prosecutors alleged Philbrick reached out to collector Aleksander “Sasha” Pesko, now represented by Grossman, to help purchase the work for $18.4 million. The idea, Grossman said, “was that they would contribute to the purchase price and share any profits. Our client thought he had paid half. Then Inigo said he was missing $3 million. Our customer [ultimately] Raise $12 million and get scammed [when Inigo] transferred it to an offshore company and used it to borrow money. He has lied. We assume that our customer owns the painting because he hung almost everything [the purchase price]. Our argument is that you can’t pawn what you don’t own.”

Things finally unraveled for Philbrick when a Rudolf Stingel painting, Untitled, sold at Christie’s for $5.5 million. Several companies claiming to own the painting claim Philbrick received about $10 million for the painting and secretly sold a percentage of it to several investors – one of them listed it for sale at Christie’s, believing he was the only one Owner. But soon others stepped forward and sought their cuts from the auction. Civil lawsuits and criminal charges followed.

Pressure mounted on Philbrick, and according to an inside source, he confessed his misdeeds to two investors in the fall of 2019. “He knew he was going to get caught,” the source said. “He confessed to them in great detail.”

Philbrick was confronted by officers and deported to Guam, where FBI agents took possession of him.
Philbrick was confronted by officers in the South Pacific and deported to Guam, where FBI agents arrested him.
Vanuatu Immigration Services

But by 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 just before public reporting of the lawsuits began.”

Feds traced him to the South Pacific island nation of Vanuatu, about 500 miles west of Fiji, where he lived with a pregnant Baker-Harber. According to ArtNet, in June 2021, while Philbrick and a friend were strolling through an outdoor market, local and global law enforcement surrounded the couple. They wanted to know if he was Inigo. He said he was and officers tied his wrists, put him in a car and took him to an airstrip. Philbrick’s final private jet flight awaited him: a Gulfstream to take the fugitive to Guam, where FBI agents arrested the disgraced dealer.

Los Angeles art collector/dealer Stefan Simchowitz, who “cut a little deal with [Philbrick] — for a $20,000 painting,” The Post said the dealer was “a young guy who got over his head… and was too cool for school. He’s not a felon, but he’s a fucking idiot.”

His fiancee wrote to the court, “He always believed in a solution rather than facing the problem.”

Meanwhile, Philbrick’s attorney, Jeffrey Lichtman, insists the glossy facade belies a more complex reality. “People look at Inigo and see what they think is a wealthy, blue-blooded art dealer,” Lichtman told the Post. “You don’t understand the guy at all… His daughter was born while he was incarcerated. He still hasn’t met her. He suffers as the average defendant does not suffer.”

Days before the sentencing, Grossman reflected on how Philbrick got away with his lofty plans: “He was very personable, very smart, very good at spotting investment opportunities. But he built relationships of trust and abused them.”

You May Also Like