Helly Nahmad Pleads for Art World Community Service To Avoid Jail

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Helly Nahmad
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New York art dealer and socialite Helly Nahmad, who in November pleaded guilty to operating an illegal gambling business, is hoping some art-related community service can keep him out of jail, reports DNA Info.

For his crimes, Nahmad believes that community service would be an appropriate penance. In lieu of jail time, he has offered to accompany children from the Bronx on trips to art museums and show them around his own gallery, Nahmad Contemporary, as part of a program run by art historian and educator Natasha Schlesinger. Nahmad would also give $100,000 a year to the cause, which he hopes to expand into a nonprofit named ArtWorks.

“I think I can do much good work if permitted to perform community service, especially if it involves teaching young people about art and art history,” wrote Nahmad in a letter submitted to the court along with pre-sentencing memo from his lawyers.

The 35 year old, who admits to a lack of education in other areas, claims that “I really do know a lot about art and I think I could really reach young people in a good way.”

The son of David Nahmad, who with his older brothers Joe (short for Giuseppe) and Ezra amassed an art collection rumored to be worth $3 billion, Helly Nahmad has been immersed in the art world since childhood, attending auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s from the age of five.

In addition to being taught by his father to appreciate fine art, Nahmad claims his father also instilled in him a love of gambling, which eventually led to his legal troubles. Nahmad used his upper East Side galley to help bankroll a gambling ring with ties to the Russian mob and several celebrities.

Nahmad wrote of growing up in an environment where “gambling was part of my family’s recreational life. It was acceptable in the culture I was raised in.” His father corroborated his story in a character letter, citing the important role that gambling plays in the family’s native Lebanon. “Helly watched me gamble, sometimes for high stakes, and it became part of his life too,” explained David.

When innocent teenage bets on ping pong matches and Knicks games morphed into an illegal gambling ring, money was not the primary motivation, Nahmad claims. According to the memo, gambling’s appeal was making “the Super Bowl more exciting and March Madness more intense.”

Joining Nahmad’s father, executives at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, the president of Pace Gallery, and the former deputy chair at the Smithsonian American Art Museum have all provided character references on the gallerist’s behalf, as have Ethan Suplee, star of My Name Is Earl, and model Alizee Guinochet, who is engaged to magician David Blaine.

The terms of Nahmad’s plea recommend that he serve 12–18 months in jail. He has already agreed to surrender $6.4 million and a painting by Raoul Dufy worth $300,000.

The court will sentence Nahmad on Wednesday, April 30.