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Ace Gallery Founder Douglas Chrismas Found Guilty of Embezzlement

Douglas Chrismas. Photo by Chris Weeks, WireImage:Getty Images.

After being found guilty in 2016 of embezzling more than $260,000 from the bankruptcy estate of his Los Angeles gallery, renowned art dealer Douglas Chrismas faces a maximum sentence of fifteen years in prison. After deliberating for less than an hour on May 31, the jury in the case found Chrismas guilty of three counts of embezzlement pertaining to the Ace Gallery estate, capping a four-day trial. In the first case, he wrote and signed a $50,000 check from the gallery to Ace Museum, a nonprofit organization he owned; in the second, he transferred $100,000 that a third party owed the gallery for an artwork; and in the third, he transferred approximately $114,595 that a third party had paid the gallery for an artwork to the landlord of Ace Museum, in an attempt to stay current on the rent.

Eighty-year-old Chrismas was born in Canada and opened his first gallery at seventeen years old. He moved to Los Angeles in 1969 and opened Ace Gallery there in 1986. An early proponent of Minimalism, Light and Space, and Land art, he played a crucial role in introducing West Coast audiences to the work of such now-celebrated artists as Sam Francis, Michael Heizer, Robert Irwin, Donald Judd, Sol LeWitt, Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and James Turrell. A seemingly incorrigible scoundrel, he wore a path between the frying pan and the fire and back again during the decades he ran Ace Gallery, for example pleading no contest, the same year he opened it, to stealing $1.3 million in artwork by Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, and Andy Warhol.

By the time he filed for bankruptcy in 2013, he had already done so numerous times. After that filing, he retained control of the gallery as it underwent Chapter 11 restructuring proceedings aimed at allowing it to continue to operate. However, in May 2016, forensic accountant Sam Leslie, who had recently been appointed to oversee the business following a missed bankruptcy payment, fired Chrismas and filed a report documenting millions of dollars diverted from Ace Gallery to various accounts and dozens of artworks moved to private storage.

The Los Angeles Times reports that the defense had sought to portray the long-nascent Ace Museum, the repository for the embezzled funds, as an intended gift to Los Angeles from Chrismas. The prosecution cast the museum as a monument to Chrismas’s greed and ego. Sentencing has been set for September 9.

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