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Art Patrons Named in $35M Fraud Suit

Oct. 27 2008, Published 7:07 a.m. ET

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SKETCHY? Arts patrons Guggenheim, Forbes (inset)

Rich people who like throwing parties and dislike paying taxes should know better than to trust an ex-convict to keep their secrets.

Christopher Forbes, Eileen Guggenheim, and a slew of other high-society types are among the defendants in a lawsuit alleging systematic acts of fraud by the New York Academy of Art's board of trustees.

The plaintiff, John R. Blumante, is an accountant who adopted the alias Robert Angona after being released from prison. In a complaint filed April 12, Blumante claims Stephen Farthing, the academy's executive director, hired him as controller and instructed him not to tell anyone about his background. In the course of his work, Blumante says he discovered a variety of financial irregularities, including kickbacks to artists whose work was auctioned to raise money for the academy's endowment, and insurance claims fraudulently attributed to damage from the 9/11 attacks.

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Blumante also alleges that members of the board of trustees (whose ranks included Forbes and Guggenheim) used their association with the academy "so that they could fly across the Atlantic to entertain their friends at fancy restaurants in the name of fundraising," writing off the money they spent.

Blumante claims the trustees fired him after he raised his concerns, and then conspired to blame him for all of the pre-existing financial irregularities. He's now seeking $35 million in damages. The academy's press officer couldn't immediately be reached for comment on the suit.

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Photos: L. Wigger/Patrick McMullan/



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