On July 10, 2018, Libbie Mugrabi was having lunch at Bilboquet, the dear Upper East Side bistro where everyone gets Cajun chicken, with his sister, Mia Rowe, and a friend named Laurent Ammar. Mugrabi had just returned from a stay at the Hamptons family home. The trip wasn’t exactly all tanning and hitting the links at the Maidstone Club. The morning after a 4th of July weekend dinner at the 7,000 square foot Water Mill Residence, she saidshe entered the family room to find her then-husband, David Mugrabi– who, along with his family, owns more Andy Warhol paintings than anyone alive – naked with another woman, both partially draped in a towel, their heads resting on their breasts. The pair had been skinny, the woman later say it New York Postwho covered the ensuing divorce with something like joyous duty.
After Libbie discovered the naked duo, the other woman continued to stay in the Hamptons Rectory for another four days. The woman, who has not been named, told Libbie ‘nothing happened’, adding: ‘I have no interest in your husband’. Eventually Libbie tried to make a deal for her own freedom, story David, she would leave their marriage if he agreed to a $10 million settlement. He had other ideas. As soon as Libbie left the Hamptons to return to town, she claimed, David hired movers to pack up the most expensive works — by people like Condominium George, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Kaws-the mansion of the water mill. A governess called Libbie to warn her of the caravan of art handlers taking down the masterpieces one by one, and joined her as she sat at the Bilboquet. The divorce was real, she thought, and her husband was trying to hide hundreds of millions of gifts.
Distraught, she ran back to the East 85th penthouse the family was staying in while their habitual residence on East 82nd underwent a $57million renovation. According to later testimony from Amar, Libbie began grabbing all the valuables she could – jewelry, a Basquiat plate – before her sister recommended she take Keith Haring’s Untitled (Three Dancing Figures) (1989), an enamel-on-aluminum sculpture one foot tall and weighing 25 pounds.
Suddenly, David came back to the apartment, shocked by the scene. Amar testified that Libbie yelled at her friends, “Don’t go! He is going to kill me.
According to testimony, David then lunged at his dead wife, grabbed the Haring and wrestled with it for a few moments before pushing Libbie to the floor in their penthouse.
“You take my things!” David would have shouted.
Eventually he pushed his wife out the door, Amar said, adding that David called the three women “thugs” and “gold diggers” once they were in the hallway.
The couple’s divorce was finally settled last year after it was reopened, but the fate of the Harings remained a mystery. Now, he seems to have reappeared recently and shaken the tenuous truce between the once warring Mugrabis. There’s a lawsuit — filed last month in New York Supreme Court, but only reported now in True Colors — against David and his family’s holding company, High Fashion Concepts LLC. In the suit, a dealer recounts how he salvaged what looks like Haring’s statue of Libbie and gave it to Phillips for a high estimate of $300,000. The work was listed in the print catalog and several bidders had placed pre-bids which would be handled by Phillips specialists on telephone banks. (High Fashion Concepts has yet to respond to the lawsuit; neither David nor Libbie Mugrabi responded to multiple requests for comment when True Colors reached out this week.)
But then, according to the suit, the Mugrabis used their influence on Park Avenue — decades of selling, buying and securing jobs for Phillips — to get the house to do the job. All they had to tell them was that the work had been stolen.
“On the eve of the sale of Phillips, the lawyer for [High Fashion Concepts]an entity co-owned by defendant David Mugrabi, phoned a sales manager at Phillips claiming the artwork was stolen from HFC,” the lawsuit alleges.
“Phillips is waiting to hear a resolution to this matter between the two parties involved,” an auction house spokesperson said when I reached out this week.
The lawsuit pits two families of old-school art dealers against each other. The patriarch of the Mugrabi family, Jose Mugrabi, emigrated from Jerusalem to Bogota, then moved to New York when his sons, David, along with Alberto “Tico” Mugrabi who settled with the old Colby Jordan after a starry wedding in 2016— were pre-teens, hoping to import his business selling old fabrics to the United States. It failed, but Papa Mugrabi quickly struck gold buying and reselling art, especially when his eye drew him to undervalued works by Andy Warhol, the ones he could buy. for a few thousand then resell for millions.
Plaintiff is Aiden Fine Arts Inc., the company of Ely Sakhai, who emigrated from Iran to the United States as a child, becoming a fat-pocketed, pot-bellied, Long Island-dwelling Chabad jeweler, as well as a fairly successful art dealer who ran a business which he called the Art Collection, later called Exclusive Art, which operated out of a storefront on Broadway near Union Square. And then, in 2004, the feds arrived. Turns out Sakhai was also running a program, to which he later pleaded guilty, to have forgers copy intermediary works by Impressionist masters. He ended up getting caught when he delivered a real Gauguin, Vase of Flowers (Lilac), at Sotheby’s in exactly the same sales season as a Japanese customer who had bought his false of the same painting entrusted it to Christie’s. Hate it when it happens. Sakhai avoided jail time and had to pay over $12.5 million to former clients he defrauded. (His son, Andre Sakhai, is an art collector who trapped in this set Inigo Philbrick debacle few years ago.)
In the new suit, Sakhai’s company says it purchased “a work of art by a famous American artist (not described here, but known to the parties)” from Libbie for “a six-figure sum” more later estimated at $165,000. The lawsuit also says the artwork was never on the art loss register and was in Libbie’s Manhattan apartment when the deal was struck.