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Ex-President of Sotheby's Gets Probation

Antitrust: She is also fined $350,000. She colluded with rival Christie's to fix commissions, restraining competition.

April 30, 2002|JOHN J. GOLDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — A federal judge on Monday sentenced Diana D. Brooks, the former president of Sotheby's, to three years' probation for her role in a scheme setting identical commissions with auction rival Christie's.

Brooks' probation includes six months of home confinement. She also was ordered to pay a fine of $350,000 and serve 1,000 hours of community service.

The collusion stifled competition between the world's two biggest auction houses, violated antitrust laws and cost customers seeking to sell goods worth millions of dollars.

"Your circumstances evoke little compassion," U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels told Brooks. "You substituted shame for fame.

"Your words are the all-too-familiar refrain of the white-collar criminal ... the extent of the damage you caused cannot be undone," he added.

Brooks, whose position made her one of the most powerful people in the art world until her resignation from Sotheby's in 2000, told the court before sentencing that she was sorry.

"I would like to apologize to all the people I have hurt," she said in a shaky voice. "I accept responsibility for what I've done

In December, Daniels sentenced former Sotheby's Chairman A. Alfred Taubman to a year and a day in prison and fined him $7.5 million for his "supervisory and managerial role in the conspiracy."

Brooks, like Taubman, had faced a possible three-year prison term for violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, which forbids unfair competition by maintaining a monopoly.

But her cooperation with prosecutors earned her the much lighter sentence than that given her former boss. Brooks pleaded guilty in October 2000 and was the principal witness against Taubman.

"She has given substantial assistance in the prosecution of Mr. Taubman," Patricia Jannaco, a lawyer with the Justice Department's antitrust division, told the court. "Her testimony was essential, and she cooperated fully."

Daniels told Brooks that her cooperation was "wholehearted and unequivocal," but quickly tempered his praise.

"Your decision to cooperate with the government was not a noble gesture motivated by a guilty conscience," he added. "Your decision to cooperate was self-saving, not self-sacrificing. You have not earned absolution."

Brooks, 51, served as Sotheby's president and chief executive from 1994 to February 2000.

One of her lawyers, John Siffert, in arguing against prison time, said that Brooks had returned to Sotheby's 2.5 million stock options worth $10 million and had repaid $3.25 million in salary earned while the scheme was in effect.

Her lawyers submitted a number of letters to Daniels urging leniency before the court proceeding.

Among those writing was New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who said he and Brooks had been close friends for many years and praised her efforts to help an urban education program succeed. Bloomberg said he was writing as a private citizen.

Brooks approached prosecutors with an offer to cooperate while she was still Sotheby's president. But government lawyers already had opened discussions with Christie's and its then-chief executive officer, Christopher Davidge.

The government later granted Christie's and Davidge immunity from prosecution.

Taubman, the 78-year-old shopping center developer who bought Sotheby's in 1983, was found guilty of plotting with Anthony J. Tennant, Christie's chairman from 1983 to 1996, to fix the commissions on what sellers paid when they put works of art and other items up for bidding.

Tennant has refused to travel from England to the United States for trial, and under British law cannot be extradited in this case.

On Monday, a spokesman said that Taubman would appeal.

During Taubman's trial, Brooks testified that her former boss had expressed anger when he learned that she was planning to help the prosecution.

"You'll look good in stripes," Brooks said Taubman told her.

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