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Arts Patron of Rare Violins Vanishes for His Arraignment
New York Times
April 22, 2004


NEWARK, April 21 - He is an inveterate raconteur, known to spin lush, if dubious, tales of chatting up Albert Einstein, discussing tropical fish with Emperor Hirohito and exchanging correspondence with Winston Churchill. And about the only thing more outsize than the stories he told was his generosity: this millionaire philanthropist, Herbert R. Axelrod, sold a collection of rare violins to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra last year at a substantial discount - a gesture that prompted one headline writer to call him and his wife the Medici of the Meadowlands.

But federal prosecutors suggested on Wednesday that like the powerful Medici family of Florence, Italy, Mr. Axelrod had a knack not only for subsidizing art, but also for creative banking and skulduggery.

Just over a week after he was indicted by the authorities on federal tax fraud charges, Mr. Axelrod, 76, failed to appear for his arraignment in Trenton on Wednesday. Prosecutors said he had fled to Cuba and had told acquaintances that he did not plan to return to face the charges against him.

Mr. Axelrod's lawyer, Michael B. Himmel, said his client missed an appointment earlier in the week to discuss the arraignment. The only news he had about Mr. Axelrod's possible whereabouts, he said, came from federal prosecutors. "I have no idea what his intentions are," Mr. Himmel said in a telephone interview.

Prosecutors said that for more than a year Mr. Axelrod, who made his fortune as a publisher of pet care books, has been selling off his assets, including 19 properties in New Jersey and Florida, for millions of dollars. His 50-foot Viking yacht is docked, they said, not far from his temporary quarters at the Marina Hemingway resort in Havana.

Because the United States does not have an extradition treaty with Cuba, there is apparently no mechanism to compel his return. Prosecutors did not comment on the whereabouts of Mr. Axelrod's wife of nearly 50 years, Evelyn.

An assistant United States attorney, Michael A. Guadagno, said that Mr. Axelrod, who was traveling in Europe last week, made his way to Cuba after receiving a faxed copy of an 11-page federal indictment charging that he had used a Swiss bank account to conceal hundreds of thousands of dollars in income.

The indictment charges him with failing to report the existence of the accounts and with using them to improperly deposit payments to his publishing company, TFH Publications. If convicted of all charges, Mr. Axelrod faces five years in prison and up to a $250,000 fine.

In an interview after appearing before Judge Garrett Brown in United States District Court in Trenton, Mr. Guadagno said prosecutors had only recently learned of the sale of 18 properties Mr. Axelrod owned in Florida and the sale of his $6.5 million home in Deal, on the central Jersey Shore. That information led them to conclude that Mr. Axelrod's failure to appear in court was not spontaneous.

"It does appear these plans were in the works for some time," Mr. Guadagno said.

Before Wednesday's announcement by prosecutors, Mr. Axelrod was perhaps best known in the New York region for selling the New Jersey Symphony 30 Stradivari, Amati and del Gesy violins from the 16th through the 18th centuries, a deal that was completed in February 2003.

The instruments, which Mr. Axelrod said at the time were valued at $50 million, were sold to the orchestra for $18 million. The Axelrods also endowed a concert series in their names.

Yesterday, officials with the orchestra declined to comment on Mr. Axelrod's failure to appear in court.

"The Axelrods have been tremendously generous and visionary supporters of the orchestra and other organizations over the years and we wish them well," said a spokesman, Philip J. Leininger. "We're hoping that it all works well for

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