The February 2003 sale had been under investigation for several months, since questions were raised about the quality and authenticity of the instruments, and about whether Axelrod intended to take an inflated tax deducation for the sale.
Axelrod claimed the 30 rare violins, violas, and cellos were worth $49 million, but sold them to the NJSO for $17 million. Experts hired by the Star-Ledger later said that the instruments were not worth more than $17 million, and probably less.
Axelrod did not, in fact, file a 2003 tax return, because he was living as a fugitive in Europe, trying to avoid arrest, but as part of his agreement, he must file a return before sentencing. He will not take a deduction on the NJSO sale.
Axelrod pleaded guilty yesterday to an unrelated charge of helping an employee file a false tax return. He fled to Cuba in April after being indicted, and was arrested in a Berlin airport on June 15.
According to the paper, Michael Himmel, Axelrod's lawyer, said that Axelrod accepted the plea because "he wanted to get on with his life. He basically wanted to put the whole matter behind him. . . he's 77 and a half years old. He's in the twilight of his life. He wants to live out the balance of his life peacefully and without intrusion."
It is not clear whether or not the ongoing investigation of Axelrod's donation of four string instruments to the Smithsonian Institution is affected by the current plea agreement. Axelrod claimed the quartet was worth $50 million, a figure contested by experts in the music industry.
Prosecutors have recommended a term of 12 to 18 months in prison for Axelrod, although the count carries a maximum sentence of three years. Himmel will reportedly ask for credit for time already served.