Ace Gallery Founder Douglas Chrismas Found Guilty of Embezzlement

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Doug Chrismas, the founder of the now defunct blue-chip Ace Gallery in Los Angeles, was found guilty on Friday of embezzling more than $260,000 from his gallery’s bankruptcy estate for which he acted as trustee and custodian.

The verdict, which was first published in the Los Angeles Times, marks the end of a tumultuous career for the 80-year-old contemporary art dealer, who now faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

Allegations of fraud and dirty dealing have followed Chrismas since the 1970s. But the dealer, who was once considered among the most powerful in the US, with a roster that held names as influential as Richard Serra and Ed Ruscha, was long able to avoid prosecution, despite accusations of fabricating works, withholding payments to his artists, and refusing to return works that hadn’t sold.

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The first major lawsuit came in the mid-1970s when artist Robert Motherwell sued him for the disappearance of nine works. A decade later, Chrismas was accused of losing $1.2 million worth of art that collector Frederick Stimpson had given Ace Gallery for safekeeping; he spent three days in jail on felony grand theft charges.

His current situation stems from the latest in a string of bankruptcy filings. In 2013, unable to pay rent on his 30,000-square-foot flagship gallery on LA’s Miracle Mile, Chrismas filed for Chapter 11. During the bankruptcy proceedings, which took place between 2013 and 2016, Chrismas remained Ace Gallery’s president, trustee, and custodian.

It was during this time that prosecutors said Chrismas embezzled $264,595 from the bankruptcy estate by writing checks to the Ace Museum, a nonprofit corporation that Chrismas owned and controlled, and securing funds owed the gallery from previous sales, some of which was given to Ace Museum’s landlord for the space’s $225,000 monthly rent.

According to the Los Angeles Times, prosecutors said during the trial that Ace Museum was meant to be “the culmination of [Chrismas’s] life’s work.”

“He wanted a legacy and he was willing to use other people’s money to buy that legacy,” David Williams, an assistant US attorney, said during the trial. “You can’t chase your dreams with somebody else’s money. That’s called stealing.”

Chrismas’s attorney, Jennifer Williams, disputed these claims during trial, saying “There’s no evidence, zero evidence that Mr. Chrismas as the owner of the gallery couldn’t make loans himself to other companies within his gallery universe.”

Chrismas was arrested by the FBI in July 2021 on three federal counts of embezzlement, and released the following day on $50,000 bail. In 2022, a federal court ordered Chrismas to pay $14.2 million in a bankruptcy case that dated back to 2013.

A sentencing hearing has been scheduled for September 9.

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