GREENWICH -- The daughter of Greenwich auto magnate Malcolm Pray was charged in an art insurance fraud scheme Thursday after police say she attempted to trick her stepfather into cooperating with a plan devised to collect nearly $60,000 from an insurance company.
Natasha Gagne, also known as Tina Pray-Gagne, 46, of 6 Stanwich Road, turned herself in to police on a warrant Thursday afternoon after a two-month criminal investigation by police, the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office in the Southern District of New York and insurance investigators from the Chubb Group of Insurance Companies.
She was charged with first-degree criminal attempt at larceny and insurance fraud, both felonies.
Malcolm Pray, 80, formerly owned several foreign car dealerships along West Putnam Avenue in central Greenwich under the umbrella of Pray Automobile Corp. Pray, a prominent philanthropist, sold the dealerships to New Country Motors in June 1999. He is known for his collection of antique Cadillacs, Ferraris and Fords.
According to police, Gagne secretly took a rare and expensive Victor de Grailly painting she owned, but which was displayed in the dining room of the home of her stepfather, Richard Ford. The Doverton Drive home was once owned by Gagne's late mother, Natasha Ford. The house was given to Gagne in her mother's will, but Ford has the life rights to use it until he dies, according to Gagne's arrest warrant.
Gagne then sold the painting in 2007 at Sotheby's auction house in New York for $17,250 in cash, according to police. Two years later, in early 2009, she began to ask Ford why the painting was missing, suggesting that it may have been stolen, and allegedly encouraged him to file an insurance claim with his homeowner's insurance company, police said. Ford said he never noticed the painting was missing because he lived in a different wing of the home and the painting had been swapped with another of equal size.
On May 15, 2009, Ford called police to report the painting missing. During the ensuing investigation, Ford told police Gagne was a "shady character who had stolen from the home in the past, squandered money and is always in need of more," according to her arrest warrant.
Ford told police they would be doing a "disservice" if they did not investigate Gagne, the warrant related.
Greenwich police brought Gagne in for questioning. Police told her it would not be a crime if she sold her own painting, but they needed to know what happened.
Gagne told police she had not seen the painting since a 2005 appraisal, according to the warrant.
Investigators later obtained records from Sotheby's showing Gagne sold the painting in 2007, according to the warrant. When they confronted her with the records, Gagne said, "I have no recollection of this ... I swear on the Bible," according to the warrant.
She continued: "If I did that then I absolutely have no recollection of that ... I swear to you ... I'm really baffled," according to the warrant.
Ford reportedly told police he was hesitant to file the insurance claim because he suspected his stepdaughter may have taken the painting.
According to the warrant, Gagne acted as Ford's landlord, visiting the house once a month. Ford had his personal assistant escort Gagne around the house when she did visit, according to the warrant.
Detective Robert McKiernan, who investigated the case, declined to comment, but the warrant reveals some details.
"In summary, sometime between 2005 and 2007, Tina acquired the painting from a home that she was not permitted to enter," states the warrant. "Following a seven-month relationship with Sotheby's, from 2006 to 2007, Tina auctioned the painting for $17,250. ... Tina then compelled her stepfather to submit an insurance claim through an intermediary, with the proceeds payable to her. Simply put, Tina would be paid twice for the same painting."
Police said the insurance claim, if approved, would have paid $50,000 to $60,000 to Gagne because the painting belonged to her originally.
In 2005, Gagne was cited for creating a public disturbance and also arrested and charged with misdemeanors in two other incidents involving altercations. She was not convicted of a crime in either of those incidents.
After turning herself in Thursday, Gagne was released on a promise to appear.
Gagne could not be reached for comment. Her telephone number is unlisted. Her lawyer, Anthony Truglia, of Stamford, did not return a call for comment. Pray was not immediately available for comment.
Gagne is due in court on Nov. 12.
Staff Writer Debra Friedman can be reached at email@example.com or 203-625-4449.