I didn’t just defrauded art investors of $86 million and absconded to the South Pacific. The disgraced art dealer Inigo Philbrick also bamboozled his own mentor through a bizarre series of lies, according to a new sentencing memorandum from federal prosecutors.
Philbrick, who pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud in November, started his career as a dealer at the renowned White Cube Gallery in London, whose proprietor, Jay Jopling, became his mentor.
The pair ultimately went into business together, and in 2015 Philbrick used some of Jopling’s money to buy a 2009 painting by Christopher Wool for $3.5 million, the filing said. Philbick allegedly then “told Jopling that he had sold” their interest in him in the painting to a number of investors, along with a 50 percent stake in another piece of art to a mystery buyer. But he didn’t pass on any of the funds to Jopling.
The British dealer grew frustrated and demanded details about the buyer, the memo said. To keep his mentor at bay, Philbrick “invented a fake name and fake email account” of a supposed Argentine financier named Martin Herrero, whom he claimed was his girlfriend’s relative.
Philbrick used the account to contract a variety of excuses for the delayed payment, prosecutors alleged. In the end, Jopling never got $1.95 million of his money back.
The scam formed just a fraction of Philbrick’s alleged misdeeds, whose other victims included his friends and the “godfather of his first child,” prosecutors claimed.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on May 5, and the government has asked the judge for a prison term “substantially greater” than the 22 months he has already served. Citing his cooperation with him, however, prosecutors requested a term lower than the sentencing guidelines range of 121 to 151 months.
Philbrick offered intel on other bad actors in the art world, the memo said, though the information he provided did not result in criminal charges against those individuals.
In addition to his sentence, he will have to pay back more than $86 million.
“He’s deeply remorseful for all the damage he’s caused and hopes some day to get the chance to make things right with all those he harmed,” Philbrick’s lawyer, Jeffrey Lichtman, told The Daily Beast.
In their own sentencing memo, Philbrick’s attorneys also cited his cooperation with the government as justification for a reduced sentence. Each time Philbrick met with the government, the lawyers wrote, the former art dealer had to quarantine at the detention center; During one of those quarantines, and “without access to a telephone or email,” his fiancé gave birth to their daughter.
The lawyers also cited Philbrick’s difficult upbringing and history of substance abuse as possible mitigating factors for his crimes.
As a 17-year-old, the memo said, Philbrick learned that his dad was having an affair, which resulted in his parents’ divorce. The separation, and his father’s alleged profligate spending on him, caused Philbrick to live with his mother and sister in a neighbor’s garage “for a time.”
The attorneys also said that Philbrick had begun smoking marijuana at age 15 and eventually began experimenting with other drugs, including cocaine, Ketamine, and ecstasy, while also drinking “alcohol to intoxication on a daily basis” until 2019. Drug and alcohol use, Philbrick claimed, were integral to “how art deals are done.”
It wasn’t so long ago that Philbrick was enjoying a more tranquil life. In 2019, as his scams from him were finally catching up to him, he flew to Australia before landing on the far-flung island of Vanuatu. (Prosecutors noted that the island nation “does not have an extradition treaty with the United States.”) There, he played tennis and went by his real name. “He seemed very relaxed,” one local told The Daily Beast last November.
But come June 2020, authorities finally nabbed him. He was arrested in his bathing suit in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, ultimately arriving back in New York to face charges.
“I knew that my actions were wrong and illegal,” Philbrick said while pleading guilty last year. The simple explanation for his crimes by him, he told the judge: “Money, your honor.”
It remains to be seen how the court will factor in Philbrick’s candor—and cooperation—into his sentence.