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Bankruptcy sale of convicted jeweler Ralph O. Esmerian's art fetches $13M at Sotheby's

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January 28
11:05 AM 2014

Ralph O. Esmerian's folk art collection was able to fetch $13 million at an auction at Sotheby's in New York, Bloomberg reported. Esmerian, who is now serving a six-year federal prison sentence for fraud, formerly served as the Chairman Emeritus of the American Folk Art Museum.

In a statement, Sotheby's said the 228-lot sale held on January 25 garnered the highest proceeds to date for an American folk art collection. The collection was entitled "Visual Grace: Important American Folk Art from the Collection of Ralph O. Esmerian," the report said.

The US Bankruptcy Court ordered the sale. Samuel Robb's carved figure of Santa Clause which he made as a gift for his daughter in 1923 fetched the top price at the auction. It got sold for $875,000 which was over three times the high estimate of $250,000 given for it, the report said.

In a phone interview with Bloomberg, liquidation trustee Jay Teitelbaum of New York-based law firm Teitelbaum & Baskin said that the sale was able to gather $10.5 million for the creditors of Esmerian. A settlement agreement reached in December 2012 showed that creditors' claims amounted to over $140 million, the report said.

The 73-year old Esmerian formerly owned the New York-based jeweler Fred Leighton Holding Inc. He was found guilty of fraud and was sent behind bars in 2011 for wire fraud and a scheme to hide assets from the bankruptcy court, the report said.

Teitelbaum told Bloomberg, "Even with this very good result, creditors still will be looking at a recovery of less than 10 cents on the dollar."

As part of the agreement, Teitelbaum said the museum, where Esmerian was a trustee, was allowed to retain 53 pieces worth anywhere from $7.8 million to $11 million. What's left of the 327-piece collection, valued to be anywhere from $6.3 million to $9.5 million was relegated to Sotheby's by the liquidation trust for the sale on January 25, the report said.

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