How the assistant to an elderly art collecting couple swindled them out of $2 MILLION

  • Raphael, 92, and Jane Bernstein, 87, are well known art collectors
  • Their collections has been featured in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art 
  • The New Jersey couple hired an assistant to help them manage their funds 

An elderly New Jersey couple with a passion for art has lost more than $2 million thanks to a thief who served as their personal assistant. 

Raphael, 92, and Jane Bernstein, 87, are known for their prominent art collections.

According to the Daily Beast, their collections have been shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Hood Museum at Dartmouth.

The couple hired a part-time assistant to help them manage their funds and to help them with general technology issues.

The assistant was clearly savvy in swindling funds, which eventually led to his arrest in January for wire fraud, along with a lawsuit filed against multiple credit card companies earlier this week.

The assistant of art collectors Raphael, 92, and Jane Bernstein, 87, swindled the elderly couple out of $2 million and began committing fraud in 2018
(James Gillray, Temperance Enjoying a Frugal Meal) Their collections have been shown in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the National Gallery of Art, and the Hood Museum at Dartmouth
(Soga Shohaku, Mt. Fuji with Sunrise and Pine Tree) The assistant was arrested in January and has been charged with one count of wire fraud

Raphael and Jane announced their engagement in 1962, and were married in 1963.

While Raphael worked at an investment banking firm, Jane became a teacher in Ridgewood after she received a master’s degree from the prestigious University of Pennsylvania.

Together, they created art collections that the Hood Museum said features ‘European, Japanese, and North American photography, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture.’

‘They have dedicated much of their lives to searching and researching, conserving and sharing, and acquiring and giving away spectacular examples of the many art worlds they find interesting,’ the museum website continued. 

Their collections from the Hood Museum eventually found their way into other places and were featured in an exhibition at Harvard University.

While the Bernsteins’ total net worth is unclear, their assistant stole $2.9 million, which would be a substantial sum even to the wealthy.

Raphael and Jane announced their engagement in 1962, and were married in 1963. The pair eventually created several collections, with many of them being featured at the Hood Museum
Pieces from their collections from the Hood Museum were selected for an exhibition at Harvard University

The art collectors hired their assistant and part-time library employee in 2018.

Other than keeping track of funds and dealing with technology issues, the assistant managed the Bernstein’s email.

The civil complaint indicated that their assistant began making purchases with the Bernstein’s credit card beginning in March 2022.

He made small purchases in the beginning, but eventually spent more than $160,000 per month with their credit card by October of that year.

The assistant used the art collector’s credit card to purchase things such as computers, electronics, and gaming equipment.

He allegedly began to use the Bernstein’s ATM cards to withdraw cash and later made checks payable to himself from their bank accounts.

Once these schemes seemed to be working, the assistant allegedly created PayPal and eBay accounts in their names.

According to the civil suit, the art collectors had ‘never used the services of these companies and are unaware that these companies exist.’

(Osuitok Ipeelee, Singing Owl) Their collections mainly contain ‘European, Japanese, and North American photography, paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture’

The assistant allegedly got away with swindling the Bernstein’s money by shipping his purchases to his home, the library, and to accomplices.

He also created separate email folders so that the messages from eBay, Amazon, and Paypal would be rerouted.

He was able to pay off the Bernstein’s credit card balances by using money from the couple’s own checking account.

The truth slowly came out after Raphael’s personal banker noticed some ‘suspicious transactions.’ 

He alerted the fraud department immediately and conferenced them in with Raphael’s son John.

Raphael later joined the conference, and together, they discovered that there were $703,795 in fraudulent transactions.

John then contacted his brother, Dan, and the pair went over their parents’ other bank accounts and credit cards.

Once they finished sorting through their parents’ finances, the brothers found that there were hundreds of thousands of dollars in fraudulent transactions on their American Express card and their Bank of America account.

The Bernsteins are now seeking justice after they claimed in their lawsuit that the institutions did not notify them of the fraudulent transactions.

The couple’s attorney, Kevin Galbraith, believes that the companies that the Bernsteins are suing knew about the fraudulent transactions

The couple are suing suing Chase, American Express, and Bank of America.

They are claiming that the institutions did not notify them of the transactions until February 2023. 

‘The banks knew them, they knew their transaction history,’ the couple’s attorney, Kevin Galbraith, told The Daily Beast.

‘Once [the assistant] got involved… there were hundreds of transactions a month and not a single call was received cautioning them.’ 

The lawsuit also claims that Bank of America is refusing to refund the Bernsteins’ $646,316.18 in fraudulent payments from their checking account to their Chase credit card.

An alleged reason behind the refusal is because Chase will not allow it and the payments occurred outside the refundable 60-day window.

The Bernsteins are asking for compensatory damages and for officials to unfreeze $165,000 in their Chase checking account.

As of now, the art collectors are unable to receive a new credit card due to the damage their assistant caused. 

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