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Celebrity art dealer's plea deal in theft case will probably keep him out of prison

Art dealer Perry Rubenstein pleaded no contest Thursday to charges that he failed to fully pay his clients, including former Hollywood power broker Michael Ovitz.

Rubenstein, 63, appeared in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom and pleaded no contest to two felony counts of grand theft by embezzlement, according to the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office.

As part of the plea deal, a third felony theft charge will be dismissed.

Prosecutors alleged that Rubenstein sold two of Ovitz’s works by artist Richard Prince, but failed to turn over the proceeds.

Rubenstein was also accused of failing to turn over the cash from the sale of a scroll by Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to an art collector based in Massachusetts. Rubenstein had sold the Murakami scroll, “World of Sphere,” to the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation. The scroll is now listed as part of the Broad Museum’s collection but is not publicly displayed.

Rubenstein’s defense attorney declined to comment.

Rubenstein’s sentencing is scheduled for May 22. He faces up to 180 days in jail and three years of probation. A 16-month prison term was suspended on the condition that he completes the terms of his sentence, said Greg Risling, a spokesman for the district attorney’s office.

Rubenstein is also expected to pay restitution.

Ovitz appears to have already received payouts for his losses. In civil court, Ovitz sued Chartis Property Casualty Co., previously known as AIG, seeking reimbursement of up to $2.5 million for one of the Prince paintings sold by Rubenstein, “Untitled.”

The insurance carrier had also agreed to pay $1.6 million to cover the loss of “Nobody's Home,” the other Prince painting that Rubenstein sold for Ovitz, according to court papers.

The lawsuit against the insurance company was settled in 2016, but it’s unclear how much money Ovitz ultimately received, according to court papers filed in the Central District of California.

Before moving to Southern California about six years ago, Rubenstein made his name as an art dealer in Manhattan. In Los Angeles, he opened an eponymous gallery along Highland Avenue. The gallery has since closed.

matt.hamilton@latimes.com

Twitter: @MattHjourno

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