TRENTON, N.J., Dec. 8 -- A man who sold millions of dollars' worth of supposedly rare stringed instruments to the New Jersey Symphony Orchestra -- some of which have been questioned as fake -- pleaded guilty Wednesday in an unrelated tax fraud case.
In a deal with the government, multimillionaire Herbert Axelrod pleaded guilty to aiding and abetting the filing of a false tax return for a former employee, and federal authorities agreed to drop charges that he conspired to defraud the IRS.
Axelrod faces up to three years at sentencing March 14.
"Herb wanted to put the whole thing behind him," attorney Michael B. Himmel said. "He's in the twilight of his life. He's not in good health. He's 77 1/2 years old. He takes it one day at a time."
Axelrod made a fortune running TFH Publications in Neptune City, N.J., a company that publishes books on pets and other animals, and sold dog toys.
In an April indictment, he was accused of depositing $775,000 for the former employee into Swiss bank accounts to allegedly hide the money from the government. Axelrod fled the country soon after but was arrested in Berlin in June and extradited to the United States last month.
In 2003, Axelrod made headlines by selling a collection of rare instruments to the orchestra for $17 million, claiming the 30 violins, violas and cellos were worth a total of $49 million.
Since then, several experts have questioned their value, and said some of them were fakes. A telephone message left Wednesday for an orchestra spokesman was not immediately returned.
As part of his plea agreement, Axelrod has to file a 2003 tax return taking no deduction for the sale. A grand jury, meanwhile, has been looking into whether the donation -- or one involving four instruments given to the Smithsonian Institution in 1997 -- violated any laws.