From staff and wire reports

The benefactor and namesake of the University”s architecture school is scheduled to go on trial in Manhattan today as a scandal that exposed fine art auctioneers as price-fixing opportunists will go back on public display.

A. Alfred Taubman, the one-time Sotheby”s chairman, was charged with antitrust conspiracy for allegedly joining rival auction house Christie”s in a conspiracy to set artificially high commission rates that ripped off sellers.

Taubman donated $30 million to the University”s College of Architecture and Urban Planning in 1999, the largest financial gift of its kind ever given to any architecture school. The college was subsequently named after Taubman, 76, of Bloomfield Hills.

The University said last year after Taubman came under fire that it had no plans to reconsider having the school named after him.

Jury selection in the case began yesterday.

Taubman, an audio headset dangling from his ears, turned and nodded toward prospective jurors as he was introduced by U.S. District Judge George B. Daniels.

Daniels said he hoped 12 jurors and three to four alternates could be chosen in time to begin opening statements today, followed by the government”s first witness. The trial could last about a month, he said, drawing a sigh from several potential jurors.

The indictment accuses Taubman and his counterpart at Christie”s, Anthony Tennant, of joining in a conspiracy that stole as much as $400 million in commissions from sellers from 1993 to 1999.

Taubman has said he is “absolutely innocent” since charges were made public on May 2 by the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Tennant, 71, of Andover, England, remains a fugitive, maintaining that he is innocent and being pursued as a “scapegoat for others.” His lawyers have said he will not go to the United States to contest the charges.

If convicted, Taubman faces up to three years in prison and could be fined up to twice the amount lost by customers.

Last October, Sotheby”s pleaded guilty to price-fixing charges along with its former chief executive officer, Diana D. Brooks, the first woman to head a major auction house.

Brooks” plea deal requires her to testify for the government against her former boss and say she was acting on orders from Taubman.

Sotheby”s has been sentenced to pay $45 million Brooks awaits sentencing.

Sotheby”s said in a May statement that none of its current employees was involved in or aware of any breach in antitrust laws. It declined comment Wednesday.

Christie”s received amnesty from prosecution after it began cooperating with the federal investigation. A grand jury began probing the scandal in 1997.

Taubman lawyer Robert B. Fiske said to retain its amnesty, the auction house must show that it shut down the price fixing once it was discovered and that Sotheby”s initiated the scheme.

The fallout from the scandal has walloped the companies financially, leading to a $537 million settlement of lawsuits brought by customers.

The companies, which control more than 90 percent of the world”s auctions of art, jewelry and furniture, will share the settlement costs.

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