By Kathianne Boniello
Famed pop artist Peter Max and his wife Mary — who committed suicide in June — allegedly siphoned $4.6 million in cash from their dementia-riddled relative, “Cousin Lou,” according to court papers.
They used much of the cash to splurge on bling, including a Cartier bracelet, earrings and a ring collectively worth $1.485 million; $1.3 million in jewelry from Bhagat; a Verdura ring costing $58,500; and $47,000 Van Cleef & Arpels earrings, among dozens of other pricey purchases, according to Lou’s daughter, who is seeking to recoup the cash.
Ricki Reisner said her dad, Louis Gottlieb, was so ill in the years before his January 2015 death at age 90 he didn’t realize the Maxes were taking advantage of him — sometimes writing more than one hefty check to them a day, she says in a Manhattan Supreme Court claim.
Gottlieb ran a successful construction business before moving into money management, carefully investing the bulk of his cash in bonds for years.
More than 70 pieces of Mary Max’s jewelry went up for auction Dec. 13, bringing in nearly $1 million, claims Reisner, who wants a judge to stop Mary Max’s executor, her brother Daniel Balkin, and Doyle Galleries, which ran the auction, from distributing the proceeds.
Max was long accused of mistreating the now 82-year-old Peter, who suffers from Alzheimer’s. Peter Max previously promised to return the funds in a recorded phone call, according to court papers.
Peter Max rose to fame during the “pop art” era of the 1950s and 1960s, using bright colors and a psychedelic flair before going on to paint for commercial enterprises like the Super Bowl, cereal boxes and the US Open.
Years before her tragic end, Peter and Mary Max were allegedly taking trips to see Peter’s “Cousin Lou” on Long Island — a successful businessman who established a trust worth more than $11 million for his daughter.
The Maxes got Gottlieb to write them more than 30 checks in less than two years, Reisner charges.
Mary Max appeared to regard Gottlieb as nothing more than a piggy bank, salivating over a $250,000 Cartier ring in an email to a friend and noting the hefty price tag “would be one trip to Lou if only he weren’t in such a decline,” and leaving “detailed instructions” for Peter “on how to ask Louis for the money,” according to Manhattan Supreme Court papers.
Balkin declined comment. Reisner wants a judge to freeze the auction proceeds.