A West Palm Beach art dealer is facing charges of forgery and fraud after illegally selling reproductions as originals, according to a recent Justice Department announcement. He is facing charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. The pieces were alleged to have been produced by notable artists such as Basquiat, Warhol, and even Banksy. Most of the pieces were purchased from auctions and sold for tens of thousands and in some cases, hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Each work of art has a provenance that details the history of the artwork, former owners, and indicates its authenticity. The art dealer is accused of falsifying the provenance of the individual artwork and forging signatures on reproductions. The art dealer is accused of laundering money related to the scheme, an effort likely to hide the transaction. A fake Basquiat painting sold for $12 million.
Defendant has a serious problem
Fraud charges can range anywhere from 33 months to 20 years. Because of the amount of money stolen from art collectors, the sentencing guidelines will require closer to 20 years and 33 months. Mail fraud has the same sentencing structure.
Defendants in fraud cases can claim that they had a good-faith basis for believing the artwork was real and were in fact, just another victim of the fraud. In this case, the defendant purchased the pieces at massively reduced rates and then marked them up as originals. It will be very difficult for him to present a compelling defense that he did not know he was committing fraud, particularly after laundering money in connection with the transactions. The falsification of the provenance and the addition of signatures to the piece would also indicate the defendant knew the work was a copy. Fraud prosecutions require the state to present evidence of intentionality. In this case, the state has ample evidence of intentionality, but this is not always the case.
In most cases, defendants of federal fraud charges arrange plea deals to help prosecutors find others who were engaged in the fraud. By rendering “substantial assistance” to prosecutors, defendants can arrange better pleas for themselves. This is not a defense, but it is the most common way that those charged with fraud approach their cases.
Lastly, you cannot be charged with fraud if the fraudulent statements did not materially impact the victims’ decision to purchase the artwork.
None of these defenses will be applicable to this case leaving the defendant with few options to present a defense.
Talk to a West Palm Beach Criminal Defense Attorney
If you have been charged with wire fraud, mail fraud, bank fraud, or any other federal fraud charges, the West Palm Beach criminal lawyers at The Skier Law Firm, P.A. can help build your defense to these charges. Call today to schedule an appointment and we can begin discussing your defense strategy immediately.