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Wed, Nov 21, 2001 - Page 21 News List

Former CEO testifies in Sotheby's trial

PRICE FIXING In US Federal court in Manhattan on Monday, former Sotheby's CEO Diana Brooks said that she was directed by A. Alfred Taubman to collude with Christie's

NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , NEW YORK

Former Sotheby's CEO Diana Brooks admitted to her involvement in a trial over price-fixing allegations in New York on Monday.

PHOTO: NY TIMES

The central witness in the price-fixing trial of A. Alfred Taubman of Sotheby's -- his former chief executive, Diana Brooks -- took the stand for the first time Monday and testified that Taubman drafted her for a conspiracy with arch rival Christie's that he sought to conceal until the very end.

It was the most dramatic confrontation to date in the seven-day-old trial in federal court in Manhattan -- the two former partners at the top of one of the world's auction giants pointing fingers at each other in one of the art world's biggest scandals.

Wearing a simple navy blue suit and speaking in a calm and confident voice, Brooks, 51, who spent more than 20 years at the auction house before widespread disclosures from a federal investigation forced her ouster and a guilty plea, said that Taubman directed her to meet her counterpart at Christie's to set up a joint schedule of higher prices and coordinate other business practices, and that he congratulated her when the scheme was carried out.

When it collapsed, she testified, and she insisted on meeting Taubman only in the presence of a Sotheby's lawyer, Taubman told her, "Just don't act like a girl." And on the same occasion in January last year, she said, when a newspaper printed her picture, Taubman held it up and said, "You'll look good in stripes."

Sitting at the defense table flanked by his lawyers, Taubman, 76, the former chairman of Sotheby's and still its largest shareholder, gazed stolidly at Brooks, who did not look back except once, to point him out vaguely, at a prosecutor's direction, to the federal court jury of eight men and four women.

But Taubman, in a charcoal gray suit, white shirt and blue tie, reacted visibly once, when Brooks testified that she had told him in advance that she would be meeting with her counterpart at Christie's, Christopher Davidge. Taubman turned to one of his lawyers, Scott Muller, and mouthed as if in disbelief, "Ha!"

Taubman, who has pleaded not guilty, has maintained through his lawyers that it was Brooks and Davidge who colluded without his knowledge. In addition to Taubman, the government has charged the former chairman of Christie's, Sir Anthony Tennant, with antitrust conspiracy, but while denying wrongdoing he has declined to face trial and cannot be extradited from England.

Brooks pleaded guilty to price fixing last year and agreed to testify for the government in hopes of winning a reduction in a possible three-year sentence with a large fine. Her counterpart and acknowledged co-conspirator, Davidge, 56, obtained immunity from prosecution along with Christie's, for coming forward with information early. He was on the stand for three days, ending Monday, testifying that at Tennant's direction he repeatedly met Brooks to carry out an agreement to jointly raise nonnegotiable fees for auction sellers and eliminate costly business practices like making no-interest loans to clients.

To buttress his testimony, the Justice Department followed Davidge with Brooks, once the most powerful woman in the art world. She recited matter of factly how she had graduated from Yale, worked for Citibank as an account officer and joined Sotheby's part time in 1979. By 1984 -- the year after Taubman, a Michigan shopping center developer and art collector, bought control of Sotheby's -- she had risen to senior vice president for finance.

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