A New York City art gallery is accusing a former top-dog at Enron -- and Houston patron of the arts -- of being so broke that he’s been trying toextort money
from the gallery by falsely claiming a painting he bought with Enron money more than a decade ago is a forgery.
Manhattan’s Historical Design Inc. filed a lawsuit two days ago in New York state court claiming Jeffrey Shankman, former CEO of Enron’s Global Markets Division, who has been a trustee at Houston’s Contemporary Art Museum and has chaired a subcommittee for the Museum of Fine Arts, demanded $150,000 from the gallery to not go public with his claim that a painting he bought is a forgery. The gallery says Shankman flew to New York in 1997 and paid $40,000 in Enron money for three paintings, including “Les Visiteurs” by J. Lambert Rucki.
Historical Design did not hear a peep from Shankman for 11 years, until, “Shankman experienced serious financial difficulties and reverses and desperately needed to stem his cash flow problems,” according to the complaint. Shankman then “maliciously formulated and carried out a fraudulent plan or scheme seeking to extort cash.”
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According to the lawsuit, Shankman claimed the painting was not only a forgery but that he, not Enron, paid for and purchased the painting. The gallery states that it believes Shankman concocted his plan in 2007 or 2008 when he realized the market price for the painting was not three or four times the 1997 price. At first, Shankman demanded $32,000 and then raised the gauge to $150,000.
So far, Historical Design claims, Shankman has refused to let the gallery inspect the painting for itself. The gallery believes that Shankman at some point altered the painting “for the purpose of deceiving … and extorting.”
Historical Design is suing Shankman for $400,000.
-- Chris Vogel