Contractor accused of stealing prize money from famed jazz pianist Cecil Taylor

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A general contractor from Uniondale swindled famed jazz pianist Cecil Taylor out of nearly a half-million dollars in international prize money, Brooklyn prosecutors said Tuesday.

Noel Muir, 54, of 79 Argyle Ave., was to be arraigned Tuesday in Brooklyn Criminal Court on a charge of second-degree grand larceny after he turned himself in to the King's County district attorney's office, a spokeswoman for District Attorney Kenneth P. Thompson said.

The stolen money was a gift Taylor, 85, was scheduled to receive last year for being one of three recipients of the 2013 Kyoto Prize, which the Inamori Foundation of Japan announced in June 2013.

Recipients are flown to Japan to receive the honor given to those who have made significant contributions to "the scientific, cultural, and spiritual betterment of mankind," according to the foundation.

A close friend of Taylor's reported the theft to Thompson's office this year, officials said.

Muir befriended Taylor while working on a brownstone in Fort Greene next door to Taylor's Brooklyn residence, prosecutors said in a release.

Muir helped with trip preparations, accompanying Taylor to Japan on Nov. 6, and arranged for receipt of the award money, prosecutors said.

He instructed the foundation to send the prize to his own bank account and "falsely stated that the name on the account is The Cecil Taylor Foundation, when, in fact, the name on the account is actually MCAI Construction," which is Muir's company, prosecutors said.

The investigation shows that since the $492,722.55 in prize money was wired into the account Nov. 20, it has been depleted, prosecutors said.

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If convicted, Muir faces up to 15 years in prison, prosecutors said.

Muir's attorney, James Costo, in an email statement said his client "maintains his innocence." He said that the bank account that held the prize money had been "set up with Mr. Taylor's knowledge and approval."

Prosecutors said they have filed a civil asset forfeiture action against Muir in state Supreme Court in Brooklyn to recover the money.

In the 1950s, Taylor honed a style built on the improvisational flourishes of jazz pianist Art Tatum and the distinct rhythmic sensibilities of Thelonius Monk.

Taylor's music is archetypal of what was once known as jazz avant-garde.In 1973, Taylor was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, and in 1979, he performed at the White House for President Jimmy Carter, according to the website Allmusic.com. He is a past recipient of the MacArthur Fellowship, known as the "genius grant." He has collaborated with greats such as the late drummer Max Roach.

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