Billionaire Accused of Illegally Owning Stolen Antique Artworks
New York’s Authorities that go after illegally obtained antique artworks have searched the Manhattan residence and office of notable billionaire Michael Steinhardt, who is suspected of illegally acquiring ancient Greek artifacts.
Philanthropist and Lover of Greek Antiquities Accused for Illegal Purchase of Ancient Artworks
As The New York Times reported, at least nine objects that have been looted from Greece and Italy, were found at the billionaire’s property as his prosecutors noted. According to The Times of Israel, Mr. Steinhardt has donated over $125 million to Jewish and Israeli causes through the Steinhardt Foundation for Jewish Life and several other educational institutions.
He also makes public appearances, speaking with young Jewish kids through organizations such as Ezra USA and RAJE. He and Charles Bronfman co-founded Taglit-Birthright Israel, which has to date sent over 500,000 young Jews aged 18–26 on a 10-day trip to Israel without charge. In 2009 Steinhardt gave the American Hebrew Academy $5 million. In addition, to help with its fundraising, AHA (American Hebrew Academy) released an advertisement featuring his endorsement. Steinhardt has founded a network of Hebrew-language charter schools, which are secular and open to both Jews and non-Jews. He has said "these schools teach Hebrew in a way that is demonstrably superior to Jewish day schools".
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Mr Steinhardt in a 2011 interview. (YouTube Screenshot)
Mr. Steinhardt is also known for his passion over ancient Greek antiquities and has a gallery named after him and his wife Judy in the Metropolitan Museum, near their Fifth Avenue luxurious apartment. Forbes Magazine reported Steinhardt's net worth at US$1.05 billion as of February 2017.
Mr. Steinhardt Remains Silent
A spokesman for Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. has not yet confirmed or denied any of the accusations, even though he confirmed that indeed searches took place in Mr. Steinhardt’s home and office. Vance is a dedicated professional who has spent most of his career in trying to repatriate stolen artworks. On the other hand, Mr. Steinhardt remains silent and didn’t choose to comment “for now” on the seizure of at least nine pieces from his private collection at his home and office as The New York Times report.
Copies of search warrants provided to AFP, and signed by a New York judge on January 3, showed that inspectors were looking for almost a dozen antiques from Greece and Italy, obtained illegally between 1996 and 2011 for sums ranging from $25,000 to $380,000. The Times of Israel report that the latter sum was spent in 2006 to purchase an 18-inch (46 cm) tall white oil vessel that portrays the figures of a female and a young boy in a funerary scene dating back to 420 BC. A spokesman for the prosecutor’s office has not revealed yet if Steinhardt will face any charges, but the search warrants list criminal possession of stolen property as a potential violation.
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A white ground oil vessel taken in the raid. (Image: Manhattan District Attorney's Office)
Steinhardt’s Criminal Family Background
In 2001, Mr. Steinhardt published an autobiography titled No Bull: My Life in and out of Markets. In this book, he addressed for the first time the illegal activities of his father, Sol Frank Steinhardt, who also went by the moniker "Red McGee." Interestingly, "Red" Steinhardt was convicted in 1958 on two counts of buying and selling stolen jewelry, and was sentenced to serve two ‘5-to-10 year terms’, to run consecutively, in the New York State prison system. In his book, Steinhardt describes how his father bankrolled his early forays into the stock market by giving him envelopes stuffed with $10,000 in cash and sometimes much more than that. The book also suggests that Steinhardt's education at the Wharton School may have been paid for with illegitimate funds.
In the book Mr. Steinhardt makes sure to pinpoint his love for art, especially of Greek antiquities. He is considered to be one of the few shareholders in an anonymous company that last year purchased several acres of former Greek Patriarchate land in the Jerusalem neighborhoods of Givat Oranim and Old Katamon as The Times of Israel reports.
Top image: Some of the ancient artifacts seized from the home of Michael H. Steinhardt. (Source: New York Times via New York District Attorney's Office).