Former Sotheby’s Specialist Faces Extradition to US Over ‘Ponzi Scheme’ Worth Millions

The British dealer Timothy Sammons is in hot water with American authorities for alleged art fraud.

Vincent van Gogh, Cows in the Meadow (1883). Courtesy of Sotheby's London.

British art dealer Timothy Sammons’s legal troubles are getting worse: He now faces extradition to the US over 14 charges of grand larceny and one charge of scheming to defraud. The extradition request was filed by the New York County District Attorney’s Office, and UK District Judge Mike Snow has agreed to comply with it, meaning that Sammons could be in a US court in two weeks’ time.

The criminal indictment against Sammons will remain sealed until his arrival in the US, but details of the charges against him were listed in the extradition request. Those papers maintain that Sammons was engaged in a “Ponzi scheme” to acquire art from collectors while promising to find a buyer, according to the Daily Mail. 

“Sammons would then sell or borrow against the artworks and use the money for himself and his family including, [at least once], to pay for a jet to travel to a beachfront home in South Africa,” the extradition request claims, according to the Mail.

Sammons is expected to appeal the extradition decision, having initially argued that being forced to leave the country would be an extreme hardship for his wife and three children under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act.

Since Sammons’s alleged crimes first came to light in 2015, his two companies in New York and London have shuttered. He declared bankruptcy this January, and has been forced to turn over his passport. After reportedly defaulting on loans, Sammons also saw his £4 million London home repossessed.

The dealer has been accused of not reimbursing his clients in full for the sale of work by artists including Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Paul Gauguin, Amedeo Modigliani, and René Magritte. Prior to his fall from grace, Sammons had been a major force in the art world. He left Sotheby’s, where he was head of the Chinese art department, to start his own art advisory business in 1995. The following year, he sold John Singer Sargent’s Cashmere to the Bill Gates Foundation for $10.7 million (£6.7 million).

Paul Gauguin, <em>Nature Morte a la Ceramique</em> (1888). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Paul Gauguin, Nature Morte a la Ceramique (1888). Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

“Between 2010 to 2015 he defrauded victims in the United States and elsewhere of millions of US dollars. The defendant sold works of art on behalf of several victims and failed to pay them the proceeds,” said Ben Lloyd, who is investigating the case on behalf of US authorities.

Indeed, the feds are not the only ones who want to see Sammons stateside. “There are multiple claims both in the UK and here by the consignors who have been defrauded,” attorney Christopher J. Robinson of New York’s David Wright Tremaine told artnet News. He represents Vivian Cavalieri, who in May filed suit against Sammons in connection to the sale of her Giorgio Morandi painting, Still Life With Bottles (Natural Morta) (1956).

The complaint contends that she entrusted Sammons with the canvas in November 2011, and that he sold it early the next year for $690,000, “an amount greatly below the then fair market value for the work,” which was allegedly $950,000. Cavalieri claims that Sammons hid the sale from her and then spent the next three years claiming that the Morandi market was not currently favorable and that he hoped to find a buyer soon. She is suing for compensation for damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees.

“Because his US corporation has been wound up, and he’s not present in the US, it’s very difficult to sue him directly,” Robinson noted. “Our intention is to serve Mr. Sammons once he gets extradited to the United States.”

Vincent van Gogh, Cows in the Meadow (1883). Courtesy of Sotheby's London.

Vincent van Gogh, Cows in the Meadow (1883). Courtesy of Sotheby’s London.

Another pending US case revolves around Vincent van Gogh’s Cows in a Meadow (1883), which another collector, the California-based Houston A. Cummings, sold through Sotheby’s in 2014. Sammons was the seller’s agent in the £458,500 ($778,173) sale.

Once the auction house’s cut and Sammons’ commission were accounted for, Cummings was supposed to receive £327,227 ($555,000), according to a sale summary from Sammons, submitted as an exhibit in the complaint. Cummings claims to have received only £150,000 ($254,000) from the dealer, and is suing for the remainder, as well as interest, damages, and attorney’s fees.

Another case, filed in the United States District Court in the Eastern District of Michigan by Ralph Booth II, was resolved through default judgment in September 2016. Because Sammons did not respond to the suit, he was ordered to pay the plaintiff the $193,000 balance plus $12,850 in attorneys’ fees in connection with the $7.5 million sale of Gauguin’s Nature Morte a la Ceramique in 2011.

The Daily Mail reports that Sammons attributes his years-long delays in paying his clients to “the timing of the business.… In some cases we would have numerous items being sold within one contract. And it could take years to complete.”

artnet News reached out to Sammons’s attorney, Maya Silva of London’s Kingley Napley, who declined to comment on the case.

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