"I can't tell you anything," IRS Revenue Officer TW Lyons said when reached by phone. He said someone who could speak would get in touch. Citing "internal revenue code," IRS spokesman Bill Brunson tells SFR "I'm not going to be able to discuss anything about the activity."
Lyons left a "notice of levy" at the scene addressed to the Torres Gallery and naming Linda K Rivera of Placitas. It is in the amount of $40,394. Linda is apparently the wife of artist Robert Rivera, whose work constituted much of what was on display at the gallery. Robert Rivera did not immediately return a message left at his home in Placitas.
The IRS also left a "notice of seizure" at the gallery, which was left nearly empty after agents spent hours cleaning it out.
The gallery owner, Paula Hausvick, is currently in California.
"She's literally been raped—of art," employee Frank Quintanar says.
Reached in California, Hausvick tells SFR the raid came as a shock, with no advance warning.
"There's nothing you can do when there's a bunch of police there. Obviously we're guilty until we prove ourselves innocent, which is pretty strange to me," Hausvuck says. "I've never been through anything like this before [in 28 years as a gallery owner]."
Hausvick says there's not much she can do but start looking for an attorney. "I'm up against a brick wall...I have nothing to do with any of this," she says. "I wonder why they came after me. As far as I'm concerned, they stole from me. Every piece in that gallery of Robert's, I own."
Quintanar and two witnesses say the raid seemed well-orchestrated. In the morning, authorities placed red bags over the parking meters on that stretch of Water Street to leave room for their cars to park. Agents from the IRS were backed up by six cars' worth of officers from the SFPD. The agents were inside for four hours, Quintanar says.
"I had [the owner] fax me whatever she could get together as far as paperwork to show that she had paid for artwork," the employee says. "The only things they did not take were what I could prove to them, in black and white" had been paid for.
According to Hausvick, the agent she spoke to over the phone seemed unwilling to listen to her explanations.
"They kept saying, 'It's consignment, because art galleries do consignment.' I said, 'Obviously, you don't know much about consignment, because it's up to the artist.' I'm saying, 'No, I own the work.' They said, 'You just told me you do have consignment.' I said, 'Yes, the paintings on the wall!'" Hausvick recalls.
Indeed, some canvases were left hanging, while most of Rivera's gourd works, which Hausvick says sell for $200 up to "thousands," were cleaned out.
While she waits in limbo, Hausvick says she's mystified why Rivera's debts led to a raid on her gallery—and for an apparently nominal sum. "It's our tax dollars that are paying for them to stay over night and bring all those cars," she says. "Big corporations, they don't touch 'em."