July 19, 2011 / 5:06 PM / 6 years ago

Former gallery director, Morse, to pay restitution

NEW YORK, July 19 (Reuters Life!) - Former art gallery director Leigh Morse escaped a lengthy prison term on Tuesday but will owe $1.65 million in restitution for defrauding clients.

Morse, whose sentencing in Manhattan criminal court capped a trial that saw actor Robert DeNiro testify against her, will spend weekends in confinement for four months and serve probation for five years.

Morse, 55, was found guilty in April of selling more than 80 works of art from four estates for approximately $5 million without informing the owners.

She was cleared of larceny stemming from allegations she sold several paintings by DeNiro’s father, the late Robert DeNiro Sr., without paying the actor.

Morse worked for art dealer Lawrence Salander, who pleaded guilty last year to orchestrating an art investment scam that netted more than $100 million from DeNiro, tennis legend John McEnroe, Bank of America Corp and well known figures in the art world.

Salander, whose gallery closed in 2007, was sentenced to six to 18 years in prison and ordered to pay $120 million in restitution.

Judge Michael Obus said Morse’s conduct went beyond simply failing to report Salander’s conduct into active participation.

“This was a betrayal of trust,” he said.

But in her favor, he noted her clean criminal record, her lack of professional censure prior to the scheme and her responsibilities to her husband, who is ill.

Assistant District Attorney Micki Hendricks, backed by representatives from the victimized estates who spoke at the hearing, sought 1 to 3 years in prison and $9 million in penalties.

Morse, in a brief statement, said she was “deeply sorry” for the pain her clients had endured but maintained that she was unaware of Salander’s conduct. (Editing by Noeleen Walder and Ellen Wulfhorst)

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