Slimy hedge fund billionaire Michael Steinhardt's birthday is December 7. This one was probably his worst. To avoid prison, he turned over 180 stolen pieces of art on December 6, $70 million worth of looted antiquities. He's a major collector. Or he was. He's now agreed, as part of a "deferred prosecution agreement," that's keeping him out of prison, to a permanent ban on collecting ancient art.
Like Trump, Steinhardt is a well-known serial sexual predator who went to Wharton. After graduating he went from there right to Wall Street where he was infamous for manipulating the short-term treasury note market, eventually avoiding prison by paying a fine to the SEC and the DOJ, put not enough of a fine to keep him from amassing over a billion dollars for himself and buying a share of the L.A. Dodgers.
An ardent conservative, he was the chairman of Joe Lieberman's and Bill Clinton's viciously anti-progressive DLC (Democratic Leadership Council). He contributes money to conservative candidates-- especially fellow Zionists-- and to conservative organizations on both sides of the aisle and managed to buy influence from New York's crooked Democratic governor Andrew Cuomo for $55,000 at the same time he was contributing $20,000 to the New Jersey Republican Party. He also gave $250,000 to the DLC. Among the unsavory politicians he wrote big checks to are Joe Lieberman, Marco Rubio, Eric Greitens, Josh Mandel, Lindsey Graham, Chris Christie, Tom Cotton, Rudy Guiliani and a shady PAC that supported far right sociopath Shmuley Boteach.
The Hill reported that the unmasking of Steinhardt and other crooked billionaire art thieves "serves as a reminder that the $50.1 billion art market remains the largest unregulated industry in the world. After all, these weren’t back-alley peddlers, they were perched atop the pinnacle of the cultural scene. Steinhardt (still) has a gallery named after him at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. [Nancy] Wiener, and her mother before her, boasted clients such as Jacqueline Kennedy, John D. Rockefeller III and Igor Stravinsky. Sir Douglas Latchford, pre-indictment, was feted by royalty in Europe and Asia.
[A]ll three didn’t just make some regrettable purchases. They knowingly, willingly and tangibly linked themselves to some of the worst conflicts and humanitarian tragedies of the last half-century-- from Cambodia’s Killing Fields and Pakistan’s Swat Valley to war-torn Lebanon, Iraq and other global hotspots where armed insurgents and violent extremists are known to profit from the illicit trade. Relying on forged papers and their then-sterling reputations, they successfully laundered countless “blood antiquities” and other stolen property onto the legitimate market. Their names frequently sounded out from the auction blocks at Christie’s and Sotheby’s. And they either sold or donated works to the foremost museums around the world, including the Met, the British Museum, and the National Gallery of Australia.
Though some of these institutions may have been genuinely defrauded, most should have known better. These are art world leaders with entire departments of lawyers and scholars to ensure their acquisitions are legal and ethical. But despite their degrees and other resources, despite red flag after red flag, they continued accepting pieces, few (if any) questions asked.
Such willful blindness has allowed cultural racketeering to become a major global crime. It is difficult to quantify the harm, but Steinhardt alone is known to have purchased more than 1000 antiquities, today estimated at $400 million. In a related case, authorities recovered over $143 million in looted antiquities just from the Manhattan properties of art dealer Subhash Kapoor alone. This is in addition to another $50 million in illicit artifacts seized from others in New York since 2017.
Compare this to bank robbery-- in the entire United States, thieves only made off with approximately $30 million each year, as of 2015. Those caught are severely prosecuted with high conviction rates. However, for art and antiquities, criminal cases against even prolific offenders like Steinhardt, Wiener, Latchford and Kapoor are by far the exception, not the rule.
In what industry, other than art, can you hunt out stolen property worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or even directly arrange for its theft, and then expect praise not prosecution if you give it back? Looting is a crime. Trafficking is a crime. Possession of stolen property is a crime. If you commit or facilitate any of these offenses, you should be held accountable. You deserve not only to lose the public’s trust but to become the focus of our justice system.
Recent revelations have given the art market and museums an unprecedented opportunity to step up, right past wrongs, and be part of the solution, not the problem. Thus far, most have failed to take it. Hopefully, in turn, the United States and other governments have taken note-- the only way to fight cultural racketeering going forward is to treat cultural racketeers as the criminals they are.
Manhattan D.A., Cy Vance, said that Steinhardt’s pursuit of obtaining new pieces of art "knew no geographic or moral boundaries," which he said was reflected in the "crime bosses, money launderers and tomb raiders" Steinhardt relied upon to expand his collection. Most coverage refers to Steinhardt as a "philanthropist" rather than a criminal. Oh, yeah... I forgot, the deal he made precludes a trial. So, technically, he's not a criminal. I wonder if the NYU students who are demanding their school get his disgraced name off the Steinhardt School for Culture, Education, and Human Development building. (NYU sold the "philanthropist" the naming rights for $10 million in 2001. Students had previously tried-- unsuccessfully-- to efface his name in 2019 after he was exposed as a sexual predator.