Published: January 10, 2012
The case involving a congregation of Catholic nuns headquartered near here, which sued a Santa Fe, N.M., art dealer and a local appraiser for fraud in the sale of a painting by Nineteenth Century genre artist William-Adolphe Bouguereau, has ended, with the sisters unsuccessful in their attempt to be made whole on the painting’s true value.
The case went to jury trial in December. Before Justice Michael C. Lynch of the Albany County Supreme Court on January 6, closing arguments were presented to the jury after a brief hiatus during the New Year’s holiday. The case went to the jury on Monday, January 9, and by Monday afternoon the verdict came back †the two men on trial for “scamming” the sisters, Mark Zaplin and Mark LaSalle, were found not guilty.
“I’m shaking! It’s been a three-year nightmare,” said a relieved Zaplin when contacted after word of the jury’s decision came down. “There was no fraud here and the jury found 100 percent in our favor.”
In August 2008, the Daughters of Mary Mother of Our Savior and St Joseph’s Chapel, based in Round Top, N.Y., claimed that the dealer, Zaplin, and Mark LaSalle, a New York State art appraiser, colluded to defraud them of the $1.7 million they believe they could have gotten for selling “Notre Dame des Anges,” an 1889 work by Bouguereau that depicts Mary standing in the clouds with the Christ Child surrounded by angels. (See Antiques and The Arts Weekly, March 30, 2009.)
In the complaint filed in the New York Supreme Court that year, the nuns, represented by New York City attorney Bruce Goldstone, claimed that LaSalle and Zaplin “intentionally, deliberately, wantonly, maliciously [and] with evil motive … perpetrated fraud” against the congregation.
Zaplin purchased the genre painting from the Daughters of Mary in 2006, paying them $450,000. He later sold it to a Dallas art dealer, Brian Roughton, for about $2.5 million. Zaplin denied any conspiracy to defraud the nuns, countering that they are merely experiencing seller’s remorse. “Sometimes you just get lucky,” he said.
Goldstone argued, however, that LaSalle’s “lowball” appraisal, in concert with Zaplin’s “straw purchase” constituted negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract, express or implied warranty, fraud, breach of fiduciary duty, deceptive business practices and violation of the penal law regarding stealing property. The requested wages for those sins, or in legalese, “causes of action,” amount to $1.75 million, plus $50 million in punitive damages.
Calls to the Daughters of Mary and the defense team for comment were not returned by press time.
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