Monday, April 27, 2009

Art Dealer Schmealers

Hundreds claim to be victims of Houston high-society couple

remix of a KHOU article

It’s an alleged crime that netted $3.5 million.

Jerry Hart appeared many times on TV promoting upcoming art and antique sales and in 1999 giving insight into art theft. “Invariably there are thefts of art and art objects every day,” said Hart during one TV appearance. The auction house thrived for years. The Harts enjoyed a sterling reputation among the rich and not so rich who all trusted the Harts to sell their valuables.

The Harts, until recently, used to live in a $1.5 million home in a West Houston neighborhood, complete with private lakes and tree lined streets. Cynthia Jones says she was a victim, and she confronted Jerry Hart. “He was teary-eyed. We were teary-eyed. And I said, ‘Jerry, you knew you were going to file for bankruptcy when you came out to my house.’ And he said, ‘yes I did,’” said Jones.

It wasn’t until another victim, who expected a $100,000 for a painting, tipped the Harris County DA that something wasn’t right. An investigation led to felony charges of theft, money laundering and now, the Hart’s have reached a plea deal on a charge of “misapplication of fiduciary property.”

The Hart’s attorneys would not comment other than to say the Harts were sloppy bookkeepers and didn’t even use a computer.