Epic art world con Inigo Philbrick gets 84 months on $86M scheme

He flew the world in private planes, spent $7,000 worth of suits and orchestrated million-dollar art deals that made him extravagantly wealthy. But everything depended on lies; the money – a whopping $86 million – was siphoned off from partners and confidants in an elaborate ploy that was always doomed to fail.

On Monday, former art world prodigy Inigo Philbrick accepted his long-awaited fate: 84 months in prison followed by two years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to a count of wire fraud last fall.

Before Judge Sidney Stein, the 34-year-old blamed “vanity and greed” for his crimes.

“I’ve been trying to find a way to live a life that’s not true,” he said.

According to a November press release announcing his guilty plea, which included $86 million in restitution, Philbrick “knowingly misrepresented ownership of certain works of art by, for example, collectively selling more than 100 percent ownership of a sold artworks to multiple individuals and organizations without their knowledge” and by liening on artworks without informing the co-owners.

In a pre-sentencing memo last month, the government called for Philbrick to face a prison sentence “substantially greater” than the roughly 22 months he has already spent behind bars. Still, they acknowledged that he had cooperated with authorities and called for a sentence below the 121 to 151 month sentencing guidelines.

Philbrick’s attorneys campaigned for a reduced sentence, citing what they described as a difficult childhood and long-standing substance abuse problems.

According to her memo, Philbrick discovered as a teenager that his father was having an affair with his secretary, a transgression that led to his parents’ split. Philbrick, his mother and sister later lived in a neighbor’s garage for some time because of their financial insecurity, the lawyers said.

Prior to the divorce, the memorandum added, Philbrick started smoking marijuana, and over time he’d expanded his taste buds to harder drugs like ecstasy, ketamine, and cocaine. Until a few years ago, he also drank to intoxication every day, the lawyers said. Overindulgence, they argued, is a necessary part of “how art deals are transacted.”

During Monday’s hearing, Judge Stein dismissed the notion that Philbrick’s elaborate fraud was prompted by his parents’ divorce. “That didn’t make him a criminal,” he said.

The judge also dismissed Philbrick’s attorney Jeffrey Lichtman’s argument that the notoriety of the case was itself a mitigating factor.

He was more receptive to arguments about Philbrick’s association with the government. The defendant’s pre-conviction memo noted that Philbrick had offered behind-the-scenes information that the FBI hoped could lead to indictments of other crimes; Lichtman suggested Monday Philbrick even offered to risk his life in one case.

The intelligence information never came to fruition, but the meetings nonetheless required personal sacrifices, the lawyers claimed in the memo. Due to coronavirus restrictions, Philbrick had to quarantine after each meeting; In one such instance, his fiancee gave birth and he was left “without access to a phone or email.” He hasn’t met his one-year-old daughter yet.

While waiting for a lift after the sentencing hearing, Philbrick’s fiancé, Victoria Baker-Harber, blamed part of his devastated reputation on the “disorganized press.” She declined to answer any more questions from The Daily Beast.

As a tabloid photographer clapped outside the courthouse, Lichtman called the result a “heavy sentence compared to other crimes,” although he conceded that there has also been “no crime with the level of fraud that this one has.”

Philbrick had risen quickly in the art world. After graduating from Goldsmiths University of London, he did an internship at White Cube, a renowned contemporary gallery in London founded by Jay Jopling.

After taking a more formal role at White Cube, Philbrick eventually opened his own gallery, reportedly using some capital from Jopling. In 2015, prosecutors later claimed, the prodigy teamed up with his mentor to fund a $3.5 million deal for a 2009 painting by Christopher Wool.

Philbrick allegedly claimed to Jopling that “he sold” her interest in the piece to several investors, in addition to half their interest in another item, although he did not forward any of the monies that should have been coming in.

Jopling pressed his charge for answers. To buy himself time, the memo claimed Philbrick fabricated “a fake name and email account” of an alleged South American investor named Martin Herrero, who passed on fabricated excuses for the delays.

Jopling, like other similar Philbrick victims, never got his money. He landed $1.95 million in the hole, the memorandum said.

As his disadvantages mounted, Philbrick fled to the South Pacific nation of Vanuatu, where he played tennis and went by his real name. “He seemed very laid back,” a local told The Daily Beast last year. “Philbrick and his girlfriend came down on the beach to visit the Beach Bar for food and drinks. They also had a very cute puppy that would play with the other small local dogs.”

But in the summer of 2020 the island adventure came to an end. Authorities took him into custody in Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, while he was wearing his bathing suit.

As Philbrick waited to hear his fate on Monday, he tried to express regret for the entire debacle: “The only goal I have is to make the people who believed in me whole again.”

Now some of his victims will spend years recouping their losses and fighting each other for the rest of his fortune after Philbrick – their former partner, dealer or friend – presented them with huge sacks of hot air. Epic art world con Inigo Philbrick gets 84 months on $86M scheme


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