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Social Justice: Artful Dodgers

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While the Sotheby's scandal's endgame commenced officially with Dede Brooks's guilty plea and accusation of former chairman Al Taubman on October 5, she has been preparing for it for some time. Brooks, the former Sotheby's chief executive, moved swiftly after the crime was revealed to shift a few key assets. In March, she and her husband bought a $4.23 million oceanfront home in the Wasp enclave of Jupiter Island in Hobe Sound, Florida. Florida's homestead law conveniently prevents houses from being seized in bankruptcy proceedings.

For Brooks, a Yale-educated golf fanatic who grew up on Long Island's North Shore, Hobe Sound will provide familiar comforts. "Even after jail, Dede will still have a very privileged life," notes a jaundiced observer, adding that Brooks frequents the exclusive Jupiter Island Club.

"Her circle and Al's don't really overlap," observes a young decorator with a similar background. "She'll retreat to Waspdom. With Waspy people, no matter what you do, it's okay so long as you are one of them."

Though Taubman may be blamed for Sotheby's troubles by Wasps, he is unlikely to be left out of the social whirl in more cosmopolitan Manhattan. A bon vivant, Taubman has spent decades cultivating the rich and titled with globe-girdling sporting trips in his private jet.

"A lot of people are sympathetic to him," says a patrician writer. "This Sotheby's stuff seems such small potatoes. It's not a crime against humanity."

That seems to be Taubman's own view as well. "Alfred thinks he is above it all," says a socialite with houses in New York and Palm Beach. "When Dede pleaded guilty, he told me, 'See! I told you I didn't know anything about it,' even though Dede pointed the finger at him."

Taubman may yet avoid jail. The government has to prove a difficult, one-witness case, and a judge may take pity on him, since he's 75 and in poor health. But if both go to jail, the mentor may fare better than the protégée. "The scandal," a friend of Dede's says, "is that there's no Club Fed prison for women. If Alfred goes to jail, it will be in one of those nice country-club jails in Florida. Dede will probably have to go to a maximum-security prison like where Jean Harris went."


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