Last September, art world luminary and art dealer Mary Boone, whose gallery have been a prime feature of the New York art community since the Seventies, agreed to plead guilty to charges of filing false federal income tax returns, defrauding the government of millions of dollars. They had her dead to rights: the evidence showed that she used business funds to pay for more than $1.6 million in her personal expenses such as remodeling her Manhattan apartment, and then falsely claimed those expenses as business deductions, prosecutors said. Then she failed to report on her personal tax forms the profit from her gallery, claiming losses to offset what she had declared as her personal income.
Now it’s sentencing time, and Boone’s lawyers are sawing away at the world’s smallest violin. Facing up to six years in prison, Boone is asking for compassion and minimal sentencing, indeed, her lawyers argue that she shouldn’t go to prison at all. Why? She had a troubled and unstable childhood, apparently. These led to mental health issues, a suicide attempt and drug and alcohol abuse. Most importantly, the poverty of her early life made her fearful that, despite her success, she would end up destitute and dependent upon others.
Funny…I’ve had those same fears at various times during my life. It never occurred to me that this might be a Get Out of Jail Free card.
“Behind the facade of success and strength lies a fragile and, at times, broken individual,” her lawyers wrote in the filing to the court made last month. The Times further reports,
“According to her lawyers, Ms. Boone’s father died at the age of 29, when she was 3, leading to a childhood filled with “abject poverty” and grief. Her drive to succeed, they wrote, was fueled by a fear that she would “end up penniless, like her mother, and die young, like her father.” Psychological examinations show that Ms. Boone suffers from anxiety, depression and post-traumatic symptoms, her lawyers wrote. They argued that keeping Ms. Boone out of prison would enable an important business, and employer, to remain open…”
I think my favorite part of Boone’s plea for mercy is the approximately one hundred letters attesting to her character from friends, artists, collectors and other art-world luminaries. You see, when you steal millions of dollars, that’s res ipsa loquitur. That’s bad character, by definition. This is like those movies where a serial kiler’s mother insists, “He’s a good boy.”
I don’t know, maybe my favorite part is where the lawyers say that her successful fight to combat addictions to alcohol and cocaine prove her character. She has not used either in 20 years, according to the defense memo. Well, that definitely makes up for stealing all that money. She is also, of course, remorseful
I know her lawyers have to take a shot, but the reason they take this kind of shot is that sometimes it works. It should never work. Unless there is strong evidence that circumstances beyond a criminal’s control literally always force people into committing the same crimes, unless no one with similar disadvantages has ever consistently avoided breaking the law, unless we are going to accept Clarence Darrow’s theory that there is no free will, that criminals are forced to be criminals by bad luck, genes and society and that it is cruel to punish them, then the kinds or rationalizations being tried in Boone’s lawyers desperation arguments ought to be ruled irrelevant. This should especially be true for people like Boone, who despite her disadvantages obviously had great advantages too.
And, of course, if you want to know why there are substantial racial disparities in sentencing, look no farther than Boone’s lawyers’ claims. They also argue that if she gets to just wear an ankle bracelet, it would enable her to keep an important business open. In other words, the more you have accomplished and the more current power and influence you have, the less accountable you should be for your crimes. If anything, the opposite is true.
Lock her up.