Jury Convicts Gallery Director Leigh Morse For Scamming Four Estates Out of Approximately $5 Million

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., today announced the conviction of LEIGH MORSE, 55, the director of the Salander-O'Reilly Galleries, for her participation in a large-scale art fraud scheme that victimized the estates of four artists. Following a month-long trial, a jury in New York State Supreme Court today found the defendant guilty of Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree. As proven at trial, MORSE fraudulently sold more than 80 artworks from four estates without notifying them.

"The defendant, together with her accomplice, convicted art gallery owner LAWRENCE SALANDER, systematically looted the estates of her clients over a period of many years," said District Attorney Vance. "Because the art industry is largely unregulated, it is particularly important to hold accountable those who fraudulently handle works of art entrusted to them. I'd like to thank the prosecutors and investigators who pursued justice for these victims, and also the members of the jury for their service."

As proven at trial, MORSE began working at the SALANDER-O'REILLY GALLERIES in 1995. During her 12 years at the gallery, MORSE sold many works of art from several estates represented by the gallery. In her position, she earned the trust of the estates that turned over possession of their inherited art for the gallery to exhibit and sell. As numerous problems came to light, MORSE was contacted directly by several estates and made aware of the issues they had involving the location, status, and payment of works they consigned to the gallery.

As director and on many occasions as the primary contact for the estates, MORSE was well aware of the true status of many of the works about which the estates had inquired. This information included the sale or payment status on numerous works she personally sold months and even years prior, and for which she earned a commission. However, rather than communicate the truthful information to the respective estates, MORSE intentionally misled them or failed to disclose the true status of their works. By not informing the estates that their works were sold, in one case almost a decade earlier, MORSE prevented the estates from demanding payment for those sales or having the ability to make an informed decision about removing their remaining works from the gallery. In the meantime, MORSE continued to sell works consigned to the gallery from these and other estates. As a dealer and the director of the gallery, MORSE's conduct violated both the trust and the consignment relationship with those estates.

On March 18, 2010, MORSE's co-defendant, LAWRENCE SALANDER, pleaded guilty to 30 counts of grand larceny and other charges relating to the approximately $120 million complex art fraud undertaken by SALANDER and SALANDER-O'REILLY GALLERIES. He was sentenced on August 3, 2010, to 6 to 18 years in state prison and $120 million in restitution to 30 victims.

MORSE is scheduled to be sentenced on June 3, 2011.

District Attorney Vance thanked Assistant District Attorneys Micki Shulman Hendricks, Deputy Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, and Kenn Kern, Deputy Chief of the Cybercrime and Identity Theft Bureau, for prosecuting the case under the supervision of Assistant District Attorney Richard Weber, Chief of the Major Economic Crimes Bureau, and Executive Assistant District Attorney Adam S. Kaufmann, Chief of the Investigation Division. Trial Preparation Assistants Geehyun Sussan Lee and R. Patrick Wyllie and assisted with the case.

Defendant Information:

LEIGH MORSE, D.O.B. 3/26/1956
New York, NY

Charges:

Scheme to Defraud in the First Degree, a class E felony, one count

Comments

  1. It's interesting how this is all worded to formfit DA Vance's agenda. Salander was NOT her accompice, he was her BOSS and the sole perpetrator of this scam. Morse was as much of a victim as the clients were. As Robert De Niro said, he trusted Salander implicitly, and as his employee, so did Morse. She was held in an awkward position in that Salander owed her $300,000+ in commissions. He says take this money as payment and I will pay "them", how is she to be held accountable as to whether Salander in fact follows through and makes the payments to clients.
    I wonder if DA Vance has ever gone after wall streeters and politicians whose crimes were so much more far reaching, flagrant, truely imapcting everyone.
    Politics and the law- such noble professions. They are one rung below reality television, but at least the latter acknowledges the fact that they are self-serving clowns.

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  2. Apart from the commenter's overall jaundiced view of law and politics, I agree entirely. The idea that Morse knowingly took on this degree of criminal culpability, and all for a relatively measly "reward" of $77K that was already owed to her, makes little sense.

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