Wed, Mar 23, 2005 - Page 7 News List

Philanthropist gets sentenced to prison on tax-fraud charge

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , TRENTON, NEW JERSEY

A New Jersey millionaire and philanthropist who gained notoriety when questions were raised about the value of a collection of 17th- and 18th-century stringed instruments that he sold to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra was sentenced Monday to 18 months in prison on unrelated tax fraud charges.

The philanthropist, Herbert Axelrod, sobbed and expressed his remorse for helping a former executive of his pet supply and pet-related publishing company set up a Swiss bank account to hide taxable income from the Internal Revenue Service.

"It was always my goal to be remembered as an outstanding philanthropist," said Axelrod, 77, standing before Judge Garrett Brown in US District Court. "Instead I will be remembered as someone who disrespected the law and this court."

Last month the former executive, Gary Hersch, pleaded guilty to defrauding the government of taxes on some US$775,000 he secreted in a Swiss bank. The white-bearded Axelrod, who has been held in a Monmouth County jail and who wore an oversized, khaki-colored prison jumpsuit to court, admitted Monday that it was he who introduced Hersch to his Zurich banker in 1983, commencing the fraud.

Axelrod was arrested in June in Germany, where he had fled after hearing of the federal investigation into the tax case. He lived in Deal, New Jersey, for many years, and made his fortune with pet products and publications, founding TFH Publications.

Once called the Medici of the Meadowlands for his patronage of the arts, he was praised just a year earlier for his sale of 30 Stradivarius, Amati and Guaneri violins, violas and cellos to the orchestra. He and some experts had valued the collection at US$50 million, but the symphony was able to buy the collection for US$18 million.

It was seen at the time as a generous gift. However, other appraisals and an investigation by the trustees of the orchestra valued the instruments at between US$15 million and US$26 million at most.

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