A woman who claimed her friendship with a cash-strapped Indian princess gave her access to rare antiquities duped a prominent Manhattan philanthropist into buying some $18 million in knockoff jewelry, a new lawsuit alleges.
Nisha Sabharwal befriended philanthropist and major art collector Shelley Rubin at an Asia Society event in summer 2009, according to Rubin’s suit.
Rubin and her husband started the Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation in 1995, which awards grants to arts and social justice programs.
She is also co-chair of the Rubin Museum of Art, which focuses on Himalayan works.
Sabharwal, after confirming Rubin's identity, quickly steered their conversation to jewelry she was looking to sell.
The accused schemer made it seem as if she was from "India's upper class and maintaining friendships with and other connections to the social and political elite in India," according to the Manhattan Supreme Court lawsuit filed Thursday.
Sabharwal kept pushing Rubin to build a museum-quality collection, and, "in furtherance of her scheme, Nisha explained that one of her friends, who she claimed to be a princess descended from a historically prominent family in India, wanted to sell some of her family's jewelry to obtain cash, explaining that certain older Indian families had significant amounts of valuable jewelry and historical pieces, but not significant liquid assets.
" A bedazzled Rubin went on a buying spree over the next five years.
The purchases were all personal and not for her museum.
Shelley Rubin (Matthew Eisman/Getty Images) "In total, over the course of the relevant period, Nisha fraudulently induced Rubin to make purchases in excess of $18,136,150.
00 as evidenced by approximately 80 invoices — virtually all of which included multiple pieces of jewelry," the suit says.
It wasn't until late 2014 that Rubin decided to get the pieces appraised — so she could buy a piece of real estate and and plan her estate.
After Rubin told Sabharwal she was pursuing appraisal, the self-styled jewelry dealer "became uncomfortable" and tried to discourage her from doing so, according to court papers.
Sabharwal went on to pepper Rubin with questions about the state of the appraisal — prompting Rubin "for the first time, to suspect that Nisha may not have been entirely forthright in her representations concerning the jewelry," the suit says.
In June 2016, Netherlands-based Van Gelder Indian Jewelry BV — "a company with an impeccable world-wide reputation" — took a look at some of Rubin's pieces, court papers say.
"Rubin was advised that they were modern pieces made to look old, of the sort that were found in bazaars tourists frequented," the suit claims.
The Rubin Museum of Art focuses on Himalayan works.
(David Handschuh/New York Daily News) Rubin then sent Van Gelder three pieces for additional testing.
Analyses revealed the stones and makeup of the jewelry samples "were not as represented" and that they were made in the 1990s.
In addition, "their value was a mere fraction of the prices — in some instances only 2 % — charged by Nisha.
" A necklace that Nisha claimed came from her mother's collection — that she described as an "emerald and diamond necklace in gold" and sold to Rubin for $230,000 — "was, in actuality, a recent creation with no emeralds, but garnets and paste (hand cut glass) along with other-non-precious stones, with an appraised value of $5,750 — or 2.
5% of their fraudulently inflated selling price and alleged value.
" A diamond necklace that Nisha claimed was worth more than $1 million — but sold to Rubin for the "bargain" price of $470,000 — only had diamond shards and was worth a mere $14,155.
The civil complaint also maintains that Nisha's husband, Mohit Sabharwal, was involved in the alleged con.
The couple could not immediately be reached for comment.