A Judge Orders Disgraced Art Dealer Douglas Chrismas to Repay $14 Million to Creditors Who Have Been Chasing Him for Years

Chrismas also faces up to 15 years in prison on federal charges of embezzlement in a separate, ongoing criminal case.

Dougas Chrismas. ©Patrick McMullan. Photo ANDREAS BRANCH/PatrickMcMullan.com

In the likely financial conclusion of a years-long bankruptcy case, the former art dealer Douglas Chrismas has been ordered by a California court to hand over more than $14 million to an unnamed group of creditors.

In 2013, Ace Gallery, which Chrismas founded in Los Angeles in the 1960s, filed for bankruptcy. The dealer continued to run the business until 2016, when a court-appointed trustee and forensic accountant, Sam Leslie, was placed in charge.

By then, the gallery’s creditors had leveled numerous charges against Chrismas, including “avoidance, recovery, and preservation of fraudulent transfers,” Leslie later alleged.

Looking through Ace’s financial documents, Leslie discovered that Chrismas had re-directed $16.9 million in profits from art sales to shell accounts labeled “Ace New York” and “Ace Museum,” and had stashed 60 unaccounted-for works of art in a private storage facility. In an attempt to recover funds for creditors, Leslie promptly filed a civil suit against Chrismas in California court. 

Due to overwhelming evidence against the former dealer, a summary judgment was submitted by a California District Court judge in lieu of a trial by jury on May 3. Chrismas was ordered to pay $14,243,884 to Leslie, who is now in charge of returning the money to Chrismas’s creditors.

In an email to Artnet News, Leslie’s attorney, Victor Sahn, said the “judgment is representative of the value of art” that Chrismas used in his diversion scheme. Any funds recovered from the dealer will go to the plaintiffs in the summary judgment.

Christmas’s bankruptcy lawyer did not respond to Artnet News’s request for comment.

The gallerist’s legal troubles are far from over, though. In March 2021, Chrismas was indicted on federal charges of embezzling more than $260,000 from the Ace Gallery bankruptcy estate. The crimes allegedly took place between 2013, when Ace filed for bankruptcy, and 2016, when Leslie took over. 

Chrismas was arrested by FBI agents in July of that year and released on $50,000 bail.  If convicted, he could face up to 15 years in prison.

Ace was once considered among L.A.’s most important galleries, mounting major exhibitions by artists like Robert Irwin, Frank Stella, and Michael Heizer in ‘70s and ‘80s. Since then, the gallery’s one-sterling reputation has been destroyed, with Chrismas accused on many occasions of forging artworks, making illegal sales, and not paying artists.

A 2003 investigative report by L.A. Weekly found that, since 1976, more than 55 lawsuits had been brought against Chrismas by “artists, dealers, collectors, private investors, service industries, landlords, and former friends.” 

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