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Ex-UCLA Official Collapses at Sentencing in Art Theft

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The former director of student counseling at UCLA collapsed unconscious in federal court Monday immediately after being sentenced to 10 months in custody for stealing a valuable oil painting from the university and selling it for $200,000.

Proceedings were halted as Jane Crawford, 50, lay on the courtroom floor while her lawyer, an associate and a nurse helped revive her.

Dazed and semicoherent, she was transported by paramedics from Judge Ronald S.W. Lew’s courtroom to County-USC Medical Center for tests.

Defense attorney Martin S. Bakst said afterward that Crawford has been undergoing chemotherapy for a kidney disorder, but it was not known whether her fainting spell was related to her treatment.

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Crawford had been standing beside her lawyer at a lectern in the center of the courtroom listening to the judge when her knees buckled and she suddenly keeled over backward onto the carpeted floor.

It happened just as Lew was about to set a date for Crawford to report to the Bureau of Prisons to begin serving her sentence: five months behind bars followed by five months in a halfway house.

She could have received 18 to 24 months in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but Assistant U.S. Atty. Ranee A. Katzenstein agreed to recommend a lighter penalty because the former UCLA official is the sole caretaker of her father, a paralyzed stroke patient.

Bakst expressed disappointment, however, that Crawford was not sentenced exclusively to home detention. He said he would take up the issue when the sentencing proceedings resume later this month.

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Lew also ordered Crawford to three years’ probation and 300 hours of community service. And she must pay $41,280 in restitution to the New York art gallery to which she sold the painting for $200,000.

The landscape, titled “Frost Flowers, Ipswich 1889,” is the work of Arthur Wesley Dow, a seminal figure in the American Arts and Crafts movement and a mentor to Georgia O’Keeffe.

Dow’s widow donated “Frost Flowers” and eight more of his paintings in 1928 to an association affiliated with UCLA’s art department. The association was later dissolved and, according to Katzenstein, the paintings became the university’s property by default.

Crawford’s trial lawyer, Lawrence S. Strauss, argued during the trial that no crime occurred because UCLA had no clear-cut documentary proof that it ever owned the painting.

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The only record presented by the prosecution was an article in the Arthur Wesley Dow Assn. journal of 1928 that mentioned the gift.

But after a three-day trial, jurors voted to convict Crawford on interstate fraud charges.

According to testimony, the painting hung unappreciated for many years in the office of the UCLA registrar at Murphy Hall. In the late 1970s, a university employee took it home, hanging it over his fireplace mantel for 10 years before returning it to the main administration building, where counseling staffers reportedly used it as a dartboard.

The painting next turned up in Crawford’s office, where it hung until 1994, when she sold it through an intermediary, now deceased, to the Spanierman Gallery in New York City for $200,000. The gallery restored the painting and sold it to a private collector for $317,000.

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In 1996, Crawford’s intermediary went to the police after they had a falling out. After learning of the probe, the gallery, which was not accused of any wrongdoing, bought the painting back and turned it over to the government.

The gallery is suing UCLA and Crawford in Los Angeles federal court for $14 million in damages and to establish its legal title to the Dow painting.

The gallery contends that UCLA failed to employ proper measures to safeguard the painting from theft. UCLA denies the charge.


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