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New York art dealer Mary Boone gets 30-month prison term for tax fraud

New York art dealer Mary Boone gets 30-month prison term for tax fraud
The Mary Boone gallery space at Art Basel Miami Beach in 2008. (Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

Art dealer Mary Boone, the darling of New York’s downtown scene in the 1980s, made a splash last year when she pleaded guilty to a years-long tax evasion scheme. Then, instead of a prison term, she asked a judge to sentence her to running her galleries.

It didn’t work.

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Boone, who owns and operates galleries on Fifth Avenue and in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan, was sentenced on Thursday to 2½ years in prison by a U.S. judge who called her failure to pay millions of dollars in income tax a “terrible crime.” Boone, in a dark blue jacket and skirt, buried her face in her hands.

She also was ordered to perform 180 hours of community service, instructing local high school teachers in the visual arts and working with underserved youth.

“This is a serious offense. All people must pay their taxes,” U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein said. “I know this is a substantial disappointment to you, Ms. Boone. I know it hurts you. But I made a special effort to provide not only a custodial but also a community-service sentence.”

Before sentencing, Boone had asked for permission to address the court. “I stand before you saddened and heartbroken,” she’d told the judge. “Please know that I’m very remorseful for the bad deeds I have done.”

In her plea for leniency, Boone said she’d been ostracized by art colleagues and had her membership in the Century Club revoked, and that even her bank had told her it wouldn’t have her as a client anymore.

She asked Hellerstein to allow her to remain free to do good works and run her galleries, saying, “I beg your honor to let me go back to work so at least I can make up for what I’ve done.”

Hellerstein did grant a request by her lawyer, Robert Fink, that she be permitted to surrender to prison authorities by May 15 to give her more time to get her affairs in order.

“Mary has to attend to her galleries and close them,” Fink told the court. Later he said, “They might close. I don’t see how they can function without her.”

Prosecutors said Boone’s galleries should have paid more than $1.2 million on $3.7 million in profit for 2011 but instead claimed a tax liability of $335. Boone also used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in personal expenses, including $800,000 to renovate one apartment and $120,000 for rent on a second residence, then claimed the payments as a business expense, they said.

Boone, 67, who opened her first gallery 40 years ago, made a name for herself representing hot artists of the 1980s who signaled the return of figurative painting. She graced the cover of a 1982 New York magazine story titled “The New Queen of the Art Scene.”

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