Shelley Rubin and her husband started the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in 1995, which awards grants to arts and social justice programs. She is also co-chair of the Rubin Museum of Art, which focuses on Himalayan works.
In her civil suit the 73-year-old co-chair of the Rubin Museum of Art who is a major art collector says Nisha Sabharwal befriended her at an Asia Society event in summer 2009.
The defendant, after confirming Rubin’s identity, quickly steered their conversation to jewelry she was looking to sell – she insinuated that she was
from “India’s upper class and maintaining friendships with and other connections to the social and political elite in India,” according to the lawsuit .
Sabharwal kept pushing Rubin to build a museum-quality collection, and, “in furtherance of her scheme, Nisha explained that one of her friends, who she claimed to be a princess descended from a historically prominent family in India, wanted to convert some of her family’s considerable jewelry holdings into cash.
She told the bedazzled Rubin that certain older Indian families had significant amounts of valuable jewelry and historical pieces, but not significant liquid assets.”
The philanthropist went on a buying spree over the next five years.
The purchases were all personal and not for her museum.
The lawsuit claims that “In total, over the course of the relevant period, Sabharwal fraudulently induced Rubin to make purchases in excess of $18,136,150.00 as evidenced by approximately 80 invoices. Each sale included multiple pieces of jewelry,” the suit says.
The first time Rubin thought to have her valuable Indian collection appraised was late 2014. She could buy a piece of real estate and plan her estate.
After Rubin told her Indian antique jewelry contact she was pursuing appraisal, the self-styled jewelry dealer “became uncomfortable” and tried to discourage her from doing so.
Rubin says Sabharwal went on to pepper her with questions about the state of the appraisal, prompting art collector “for the first time, to suspect that Nisha may not have been entirely forthright in her representations concerning the jewelry,” the suit says.
In June 2016, Netherlands-based Van Gelder Indian Jewelry BV, described in the suit as “a company with an impeccable world-wide reputation,” took a look at some of Rubin’s pieces. The shocking outcome was that: “Rubin was advised that they were modern pieces made to look old, of the sort that were found in bazaars tourists frequented,” the suit claims.
Stunned, Rubin next sent the firm three more pieces for additional testing. The result again was anything but as expected. Analyses revealed the stones and makeup of the jewelry samples “were not as represented” and that they were made in the 1990s.
In addition, “their value was a mere fraction of the prices, in some instances only 2 %, charged by Nisha.”
It turned out a necklace that Nisha claimed came from her mother’s collection, that she described as an “emerald and diamond necklace in gold” and sold to Rubin for $230,000, “was, in actuality, a recent creation with no emeralds, but garnets and hand cut glass along with other-non-precious stones, with an appraised value of $5,750. A mere 2.5% of their fraudulently inflated selling price and alleged value.”
A diamond necklace that Nisha claimed was worth more than $1 million, but sold to Rubin for the “bargain” price of $470,000, only had diamond shards and was worth a mere $14,155.
The civil suit cites Nisha’s husband, Mohit Sabharwal, as being involved in the alleged con.