Wednesday 27 October 2010

Art Scam backfires

An American art auctioneer who sold fake artwork on a national auction TV show was this week sentenced to five years in jail after pleading guilty to mail fraud, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, interstate transportation of stolen property and failing to file a tax return.

James Mobley sold the forged art in association with the Fine Art Treasures Gallery, located in Pasadena CA. The owners of the Gallery had already been sentenced to a total of eleven years jail, having also pleaded guilty to numerous charges including conspiracy, interstate transportation of stolen property and filing false tax returns. $3.8 million had also been seized from their bank accounts.

The way the scam had worked was that fake or forged art was bought from suppliers or created by the Gallery owners and then passed off as the authentic works of artists such as Picasso and Dali. Forged certificates of authenticity or fake appraisals were often drawn up for these pieces. Also, to make it seem more plausible that the art was real, the Gallery claimed that they sourced the worlds from worldwide estate liquidations. The scam did not stop there, however. Mobley then auctioned the works live on TV in an art auction show, where the auction bidding process was also rigged such that fake bids were announced on the program to falsely drive up the prices.

The scam operated for 4 years and over that time more than $20 million is said to have been conned from thousands of people.

This case serves to confirm the old adage that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

So, if you are thinking of investing in some art, try and get the opinion of a professional appraiser or qualified authenticator beforehand. After all, you wouldn’t buy a house without a survey. The purchase of art, especially as an investment, should be treated in the same way.

<------For future reference: a fake picasso

Source: Los Angeles Daily News, 26 October 2010.

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