March 20, 2020

Man pleads guilty in Florida court to charges linked to fake art

A 43-year-old man has pleaded guilty to federal charges in Florida in connection with fraudulent works of art.

The man, a Los Angeles resident, was accused of buying works of art that he said were created by well-known graffiti artists Jean-Michael Basquiat and Keith Haring, then trying to sell them to an art gallery in South Florida for at least $1 million.

He was charged in federal court in Miami with identity theft and mail fraud and reached a plea deal with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. He could be sentenced to as long as 22 years in prison.

Authorities said the man bought the forgeries from a variety of sources, then created letters certifying they were authentic. The U.S. Attorney’s Office there said he “even designed and purchased embossers bearing the name of Haring and Basquiat. He stamped the fake letters with the custom embossers, trying to sharpen the look of legitimacy.”

Earlier, he entered a guilty plea in Los Angeles to similar charges involving faked artwork he said was done by the same artists in the Florida case, as well as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein. He faces up to 25 years in federal prison in that case.

“Hopefully this will send a message from the FBI’s Art Crime Team and the United States Attorney’s Office that these types of cases will be fully prosecuted,” the prosecutor in Los Angeles told Court House News.

His scheme, in part, was uncovered when he used one of the forgeries as collateral for a $24,000 loan. When he defaulted and the creditor tried to sell the art at auction, the forgery was discovered.

Some white collar cases can be fought vigorously, while others require a strong representation to come up with the best result, such as this plea deal, for all involved.

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