Wall Street Dealmaker Says Professor Took Him for a Ride

2016-10-18 14:22:12

 

Wall Street Dealmaker Says Professor Took Him for a Ride

READING, Vt. — On Wall Street, Andrew J. Hall is known, even feted, as an aggressive trader with nerves of steel, capable of earning a $100 million bonus in a single year. His particular skill: spotting opportunities in high-stakes oil markets.

When he turned to constructing a personal art collection, he did so with similar ambition and shrewdness, amassing an impressive trove of 5,000 works by hundreds of artists he loved, including Leon Golub, an American postwar painter of expressionistic, heroic-scale figures.

But when Mr. Hall set out last year to stage an exhibition of Golub’s art at the private rural museum he operates in this small village, he found out to his surprise that more than a third of the Golubs he had bought were forgeries, according to a lawsuit he filed last month.

And the people he says hoodwinked him were two unlikely adversaries: a 68-year-old art history professor at a small college just two hours down the road and her 34-year-old son.

Now, the professor and her son seem to have disappeared, and Mr. Hall is looking for the $676,250 he spent on the paintings, according to court records and the professor’s former colleagues.

Mr. Hall started collecting Golub’s work in 2003 and within six years he had amassed 40 pieces, wagering that Golub’s work was undervalued and due to appreciate. In 2011 he discovered that the professor, Lorettann Gascard of Franklin Pierce University in New Hampshire, shared his passion for Golub’s art. She and her son, Nikolas, seemed to have a collection of Golubs to rival his own, he learned, and they wanted to sell.

Mr. Hall had, it turned out, already bought eight of their Golubs through auction houses in New York beginning in 2009. And after making direct contact with the Gascards in 2011 he bought another 16 from them, cutting out the middleman.

But now he says all 24 of the Golubs he bought from the Gascards are fake.

The Gascards hatched “a prolonged and fraudulent scheme” to deceive Mr. Hall, “passing off as works of art by Golub works actually by someone else,” his attorney, Ted Poretz, said in a federal lawsuit filed in New Hampshire, where the Gascards lived. Mr. Hall is seeking damages including a refund of the $676,250 he paid for them.

Before the exhibition Mr. Hall was planning to put on last year, his museum contacted Ms. Gascard with questions. She said that she had gotten to know Golub while attending his classes at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Teaneck, N.J., in the late 1970s, and they became close friends until his death in 2004, according to court papers.

Around the same time, a representative of a foundation established to promote work by Golub and his wife, the artist Nancy Spero, examined the paintings and found problems. The representative, Samm Kunce, an artist and former studio assistant to Golub, found no record of the Gascard Golubs in the foundation’s database, according to the court papers. She also noticed “a number of unusual formal characteristics during in-person examinations of the paintings,” the papers say.

Elisabeth McCarthy, a lawyer for the Golub-Spero foundation, said that, while it had been contacted by Mr. Hall, and often provides access to records and other information about Golub works, it “did not opine on the authenticity of the artwork in the Hall collection.”

Court papers also say that the Golub children could not remember Ms. Gascard as a family friend.

“Our parents, and Leon in particular, were quite gregarious and their friends frequently came to our residence for dinner, so it’s surprising that we have never heard of Gascard,” Stephen Golub said in an email to the Hall Art Foundation last year, according to the court filing.

Ms. Gascard has yet to file a response to the lawsuit, and her whereabouts and those of her son have become something of a mystery. At Franklin Pierce, which she left after an unrelated dispute with the administration a year and a half ago, colleagues said they did not know where she had gone.

“We are not in a position to make any comment about Lorettann,” Linda Quimby, a college spokeswoman, said.

At the Gascards’ former home, a white two-story house in Rindge, N.H., a young woman who answered the door said she believed Ms. Gascard had moved more than a year ago.

Ms. Gascard told people that she grew up in New York and earned her doctorate at the Free University in Berlin. At Franklin Pierce, she taught undergraduate art history and drawing, and supervised the college art gallery. In 2004, she did research in Germany with support from the Fulbright program. Four years later, she contributed a chapter about the “conflicting female ideals” under the Nazis to a book about art and eugenics. Generally liked by her students, she often walked around campus wearing white gloves and dark glasses, faculty colleagues said in interviews.

Ms. Gascard was an artist herself, practicing a technique called rust art, and her work sold at auction in one instance for $45,000. She told colleagues at the college that she had been friendly with Golub and his wife, but they do not remember her mentioning that she owned any of his paintings.

But between 2009 and 2011 the Gascards consigned at least eight works they attributed to Golub to auction in New York, including six at Christie’s and one at Sotheby’s, where Mr. Hall purchased them, he said in the suit. The auction houses relied on the story the Gascards told them about the paintings’ provenance, according to the filing.

Representatives of the auction houses said that they were investigating the questions that have been raised about the works’ authenticity. Sotheby’s said it had sold two other paintings purported to be by Golub from the same consignor and was contacting the buyers.

Ms. Gascard told the Hall Art Foundation that Golub, whose work explored dire political conditions such as in his “Mercenaries IV” (1980), gave her and her husband some works. They bought others from him. Still others had come to her after the death of her husband’s sister, she said.

But last year, when questions arose about the works, Mr. Hall challenged Ms. Gascard on how she had acquired them, according to the court papers. Ms. Gascard, the papers say, supplied two letters, one from Golub thanking her for sending him an article, and another from Spero, thanking Ms. Gascard for a gift of earphones. Neither letter mentioned the paintings.

The Hall Art Foundation canceled the exhibition at its museum, which occupies a converted dairy farm on the main road here opposite the local public school.

The British-born Mr. Hall, 65, and his wife, Christine, exhibit a portion of their collection here and at several other locations, including a medieval castle they own in Germany.

Mr. Hall earned his fortune making large bets in the commodities markets. It was in 2009, at the helm of Phibro, part of Citigroup, that he was scheduled to receive a $100 million bonus. That became a flash point for national anger over executive pay at a time when Citigroup had accepted bailout money from the federal government after the financial crisis.

The couple, who have homes here, in Florida, New York and Connecticut, draw mixed reviews from residents of Reading, a town of fewer than 700 people. They began buying land here in the 1980s and are now the town’s largest private landowners, owning 2,500 acres.

Their Reading home, Newhall Farm, manicured and pristine, sits on a hill, and sells ice cider, honey and maple syrup online. Mr. Hall has given money and land to the nearby school, helps the local food bank, funded clean-up efforts after Hurricane Irene and has provided jobs, some residents say.

“He is our own Medici, our patron; he does well for a town where not everyone is doing well,” said Barbara Thaeder, who runs Bailey’s Mills Bed and Breakfast.

But others view him as a rich outsider who takes land and homes that families could use in a 250-year-old village struggling to house its young people and fill its school.

They say Mr. Hall has torn down too many houses on property he bought, and that the jobs he had created, largely menial, were not particularly valuable.

“The town is shrinking,” said Zonia Watroba from behind the counter at her general store.

Ms. Watroba did not seem terribly upset that Mr. Hall, the canny oil trader, might have been duped in pursuit of his second passion as an art collector.

“If he is going to start dressmaking,” she said, “he should know how to make dresses.”

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