MANHATTAN (CN) - An art collector claims a dealer disappeared with more than $5 million worth of art, including works by Picasso, Matisse and Klee, after claiming to have listed the pieces for auction at Christie's in London. He says the dealer's attorney told him the money "has been spent" and that the dealer "hoped to avoid being prosecuted."
George Ball sued R. Scott Cook, his wife Soussan A.E Cook, Cook Fine Art LLC and New Yorker Storage Co. dba New Yorker Arts, in Federal Court.
Ball says the Cooks are partners in Cook LLC, whose principal place of business on Madison Avenue in Manhattan "seems to have been closed" about 2 years ago, when the Cooks moved to Florida. He believes the Cooks may be living in Southern France.
Ball says he was referred to Cook "by a close friend who vouched for Cook's honesty, trustworthiness and ability." He adds that "until the events of the last few days described herein, Cook has had an excellent reputation for honesty, trustworthiness and ability as an art dealer."
Ball says he made the Cooks his exclusive dealers for more than $10 million worth of purchases of 19th and 20th century art that he made from 1997 to 2000. He says that because his collection "was always greater than plaintiff could accommodate in his residents" he always "entrusted" the defendants with most of his art, and that they kept it in their gallery and in storage at New Yorker Arts.
In late 2010, Ball says, he asked Cook LLC to sell some of his pieces at a major auction house. "Cook then suggested that certain major pieces be consigned to Christie's for a sale or sales to be held in June, 2011."
Cook says he authorized the sale of three Picasso drawings, three Matisse drawings and four other pieces, including a small watercolor by Kandinsky and an ink drawing by Egon Schiele.
He says Cook called him in late June to tell him that the auction had been successful, and that two Picassos, three Matisses, a Klee, the Kandinsky, the Schiele, and a piece by Paul Delvaux had been sold, for a total of 3,390,000 euros, or $5.3 million.
But Ball says he never got any money.
He says Cook emailed him on Aug. 9 and said the funds had not "cleared" yet, but should soon.
On Aug. 15, Cook says, he "received a telephone message to call an attorney in Philadelphia, who said that he represented Cook." Ball's attorney returned the call, and spoke with James Eisenhower, with Schnader Harrison Segal & Lewis, who said he represented Cook, according to the complaint.
The complaint continues: "Mr. Eisenhower informed plaintiff's attorney that Cook and his wife were not in the country, that plaintiff was expecting to receive a large amount of money, but that the money that plaintiff was expecting to receive would not be forthcoming because 'it has been spent.' Mr. Eisenhower said that Cook hoped to work something out with plaintiff, that Cook might be able to raise $1 million if he could sell some artwork, and that Cook hoped to avoid being prosecuted."
Ball says his attorney "immediately emailed Mr. Eisenhower demanding the immediate return of all plaintiff's property in the possession of Cook. There has been no response to that email and no return of any of plaintiff's property in the possession of the defendants."
Ball adds: "A subsequent internet review of the June 2011 auctions at Christie's does not indicate that any property belonging to plaintiff was even catalogued to be sold by Christie's in June 2011.
"The only possible conclusion ... is that plaintiff has been defrauded by defendants who have stolen his artworks and/or the proceeds thereof."
Ball seeks punitive damages for conversion, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and unjust enrichment. He is represented by Mel Barkan with Windels, Marx, Lane and Mittendorf.