On Tuesday, Los Angeles gallerist and art dealer Douglas Chrismas was arrested in California by the FBI, who are charging him with embezzling funds from the bankruptcy estate tied to Ace Gallery; Chrismas ran the gallery until 2016. In 2013, the Los Angeles-based Ace Gallery filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy but continued to operate as a bankruptcy estate, with Chrismas still presiding over the property’s assets and operations. In total, the FBI is alleging that Chrismas embezzled more than $260,000 in total from Ace Gallery’s bankruptcy estate. If Chrismas earns convictions in all the charges he’s currently been leveled with, he could be looking at 15 years in prison.
According to an indictment dating back to March that’s now been unsealed, Chrismas is accused of having used collector funds that were supposed to go to the gallery for his own business interests. Allegedly, Chrismas embezzled $114,595 that was owed to Ace Gallery and forked it over to one of his corporation’s creditors; in another instance, Chrismas allegedly embezzled $100,000 owed to Ace Gallery in exchange for art and funneled the money directly into his corporation.
This is hardly the first time Chrismas has faced legal complaints. A 2003 LA Weekly profile of Chrismas found that since the 1970s, the art dealer had been the target of no less than 55 lawsuits to date. “He’s been sued by artists, dealers, collectors, private investors, service industries, landlords, and former friends,” Kristine McKenna, the writer of the profile, divulged. “He’s been sued under three different spellings of his surname and nine different business names—and this is just in L.A.”
Grifters are an unavoidable presence in the arts industry, where collectors and institutional representatives alike are often blinded by the prestige and aesthetic excellence certain galleries can offer. If the allegations against Chrismas turn out to be proven, however, he’s certainly established himself as particularly brazen.