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Former Sotheby’s chief Diana “DeDe” Brooks had no motive to lie when she testified that former boss A. Alfred Taubman was the driving force behind a price-fixing conspiracy with rival auction house Christie’s International, a prosecutor said Monday. Despite Brooks’ cooperation agreement with the government, reached when she pleaded guilty to her own role in the scheme, she received no guarantee that her testimony against Taubman would keep her out of jail, according to antitrust prosecutor John J. Greene. All the government promised, he said during closing arguments in the three-week old trial before Southern District of New York Judge George Daniels, was that Brooks’ cooperation might lead to a letter to the probation department that could result in a recommendation for a lower sentence. “If she lied, she wouldn’t get the letter and she could be prosecuted for perjury,” Greene said. Greene, a member of the U.S. Justice Department’s antitrust division, was well aware that the defense would focus on Brooks when it came time for its closing argument, which cast the 76-year-old Taubman as detached from the day-to-day workings of the company. And when defense counsel Robert Fiske, of Davis Polk & Wardwell, rose to counter allegations that it was Taubman who launched the conspiracy with Christie’s chairman Sir Anthony Tennant, Fiske wasted little time in saying, “This is a one-witness case.” The defense hammered home the point that Taubman was a passive chairman who deferred to Brooks and would never have approved of colluding with his hated competitor. Fiske even portrayed Taubman as a shrinking violet who was intimidated by Brooks and gave her so much latitude that she was able to rig sellers’ commission rates with Christie’s. Fiske said the evidence showed that plot culminated in a secret meeting at John F. Kennedy International Airport with Brooke’s opposite number at Christie’s, Christopher Davidge. “DeDe Brooks is a walking reasonable doubt,” Fiske told the jury. “She has no notes and all we have here is her track record of lying.” Fiske said it was incredible that the prosecution could allege the price-fixing plan was launched between Taubman and Tennant in 1993, and yet, it took almost two years for Brooks and Davidge to set the plan in motion. Brooks had two plans for dealing with the possibility that the scheme would be uncovered, he said. The first plan was to stonewall government investigators in the United States and Great Britain, and to lie to lawyers for Sotheby’s, he said. But when it became clear that Christie’s had opted to cooperate with the government in the price-fixing probe, Fiske said that Brooks moved to Plan B, which was to “blame Alfred Taubman.” Fiske spent little time on Davidge, noting only that “he has an immunity deal” with the government, and “is being paid $8 million to come over here and be a witness in this case,” referring to Davidge’s severance package with Christie’s. Of all the notes detailing his meetings with Tennant that Davidge produced for the trial, “not one” referred to Taubman by name, Fiske said. And Fiske had his own spin on one of the notes kept by Davidge and relied upon by the government. The note referred to how Davidge and Brooks were to execute the conspiracy, with the caveat that Tennant and his unnamed Sotheby’s counterpart would “intervene from on high” if problems arose. Fiske, however, said the connection at Sotheby’s was not Taubman, but a member of Sotheby’s board in London who knew Tennant and was dealing with Brooks behind the scenes. In addition to bolstering the credibility of Brooks, Greene focused on showing the jury that Taubman had the “motive, the capacity and the opportunity” to collude on sellers’ commissions. In 1993, “fix was in,” Green said, shortly after profits and earnings in the auction business had fallen off sharply. And he said that Taubman, who made his fortune in real estate, was also having problems with his other businesses. Greene disparaged the defense’s portrayal of Taubman as removed from the daily affairs of the company, saying it was “ridiculous” for his lawyers to contend that Taubman “slept through board meetings” and “did not understand finances.” Greene said that Taubman was fully engaged in the management of Sotheby’s, attending board meetings and meetings of the company’s audit committee. “He was involved in all pricing and strategic decisions — they had to go through the board and he had to approve them,” Greene said. Later, on rebuttal, Greene said, “You don’t become a millionaire or a billionaire without being able to read the bottom line.” As for an opportunity to fix prices, Green, hammered home the point that Davidge and others had notes showing that the 1993 meeting between Taubman and Tennant was only the first of several. “There can be no argument that these are private meetings in private places,” he said, and yet Taubman told no one about the meetings, not even his former chief executive. In the end, Greene summed up by saying that Taubman “thought that he was above the law. He thought, ‘I’m never going to get caught.’ “ Taubman faces up to 3 years in prison if convicted. Judge Daniels is expected to charge the jury this morning.

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