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.”
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
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.