Ex-owner of art gallery gets 40 months for theft
After years of anguish over missing paintings and disbelief that a respected and trusted art authority would steal from them, art collectors...
Seattle Times staff reporter
After years of anguish over missing paintings and disbelief that a respected and trusted art authority would steal from them, art collectors bilked by Kurt Lidtke edged closer to justice Friday when a judge sentenced the former gallery owner to repay them and spend 40 months in prison.
Neatly dressed in khaki pants and a blue blazer, Lidtke broke into tears when he told King County Superior Court Judge Sharon Armstrong: "I'm so very, very sorry for what happened."
Lidtke was charged with 19 counts of first-degree theft and one count of failing to pay state taxes, but in a deal with prosecutors pleaded guilty to nine counts of theft. He agreed to pay restitution for all 20 charges.
Armstrong rejected Lidtke's bid for lenient first-time offender status, saying the loss, in excess of $400,000, and the fact that Lidtke had abused his position of trust in the Seattle arts community called for a sentence within the standard range, 33 to 43 months.
She took three months off the maximum sentence because Lidtke has already paid restitution to some of the victims.
From 1999 to 2004, Lidtke went to the homes of art collectors and signed agreements to sell on consignment the works by artists in the Northwest School. The owners were not compensated, court records say, nor were the paintings returned.
One of those paintings was Paul Horiuchi's "Color to Parallel," a paper collage owned by Robert Gillespie, who inherited the work from his grandmother.
"If you don't have a place in your house, you turn it over to someone who will really love it," Gillespie said.
He consigned it to Lidtke for $18,000 and learned recently that Lidtke sold it to a woman in Arizona for $8,500, claiming it was scratched.
Gillespie was never compensated and is incensed about it. He still hopes to get the piece back but, like many of the missing pieces, its return is mired in legal quagmires over ownership.
The Seattle art world "just didn't see this coming at all," said Senior Deputy Prosecuting Attorney John Carver.
Lidtke, he told the court, would have continued stealing from his clients if The Seattle Times had not done an investigation that called attention to problems at the gallery.
"The newspaper pulled the plug on him."
Lidtke's attorney, John Henry Browne, said Lidtke was suffering from alcohol and cough-syrup addiction and went into treatment as a condition of Browne representing him. Browne asked for leniency, saying Lidtke is taking responsibility for his actions and is saddened by what he did.
"It's a tragedy," Browne said. "Nobody wins in this."
In addition to compensating all victims and serving prison time, the court also ordered Lidtke to have no contact with his ex-wife, Lisa Papas, who lives in Toronto.
After the sentencing, Gillespie and another owner met outside the courtroom and talked about how even the most veteran collectors were duped, as well.
"I'm glad it's over and glad he's going off to jail," Gillespie said.
Nancy Bartley: 206-464-8522 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company
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