Art gallery execs
get six years

‘They fleeced the public . . . then
they did the same to employees’

By Linda Hosek
Star-Bulletin

William D. Mett and Marvin L. Wiseman were on top of the world as Center Art Gallery executives, a visiting federal judge said as he described a common trend for successful middle-aged Americans to succumb to greed.

"They had community respect," U.S. District Judge Edward Rafeedie said yesterday after he sentenced each to about six years for stealing $1.6 million from company pension funds. "They threw it all away to make a few extra bucks."

Rafeedie rejected arguments from defense attorneys to lessen their terms, saying neither did anything to show they accepted responsibility for their actions.

He settled on a range of 70 to 87 months and sentenced them to the least number of years within the range.

He also agreed to let them remain free on bail pending appeal, which could take up to two years.

U.S. Attorney Steven Alm said the sentence was long, but added that they had committed their crimes over a long period of time. "First they fleeced the public in the original Center Art Gallery case, and then they did the same to employees," he said, adding that the sentence shows white-collar employees will go to jail when they break the law.

Birney Bervar, Wiseman's attorney, said his client was disappointed that he received the same sentence as Mett and said he would appeal the term and conviction.

He said his client played a lesser role in the episode, explaining that Wiseman was only an art salesman and served as a pension plan trustee at Mett's urging.

Bervar also said he was disappointed that Rafeedie had calculated the pension plan's loss at $1.6 million, saying the two had made cash payments and pledged $1.5 million in artwork.

"He (Wiseman) doesn't feel that he committed a crime," Bervar said.

"The money was borrowed from the pension plan to maintain the company's operation. They saw it as a loan, not theft."

A federal jury June 25 found Mett, 54, and Wiseman, 53, guilty as charged for embezzling $1.6 million from retirement plans from two galleries while on trial for fraud for misrepresenting original artwork.

Mett, convicted of 14 counts, was the company's president; Wiseman, convicted of 13 counts, was vice president.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Larry Tong agreed with Rafeedie's ruling not to give credit for attempts to replenish the pension fund.

He said Mett and Wiseman stole from the fund from March 1990 to November 1991 but did nothing to replenish it until they learned in 1994 that labor officials were investigating them.

He said they then made a promissory note to repay $1.5 million and pledged assets to make it look like they were making good on the money they stole.

Tong also said Mett and Wiseman drew salaries of $378,000 and $515,000 respectively from 1990 through 1992, even though the company was dying.

He said none of the employees would lose money from their plans, based on efforts by a federal Labor Department division. He said the money would come from pension funds across the country.

Tong said their motive for embezzling stemmed from the money they owed from their 1990 trial.

The court had fined Center Art Gallery $1 million, Mett $780,000 and Wiseman $282,000, and ordered the two to pay $314,000 to the victims who testified. They paid only the restitution.

In the trial, jurors convicted them of mail fraud for misrepresenting originals, particularly those of Salvador Dali.

In April 1987, U.S. Postal Service inspectors seized more than 12,000 lithographs, etchings and other works the gallery sold as originals.

The government said they were poster-quality reproductions.

Mett served 36 months in prison and was released in May; Wiseman served 30 months and was released in December.

Center Art Gallery ceased operations in 1995.




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