Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall and Andy Warhol were among artists whose works were counterfeited by seven people indicted for two art-fraud schemes that reaped a combined $5 million.
Those charged include three Europeans and residents of New York, Florida and Illinois, Chicago U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald said today in a statement. They sold thousands of fake prints in the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan and Europe, he alleged.
“Most of us have never owned a work of art signed by Picasso,” Fitzgerald said today at a press conference. Some people who believed they did, he added, “bought fakes.”
Some of the prints in the scam were sold on EBay Inc., the world’s largest online auctioneer, Fitzgerald alleged. Others were funneled through two art dealers in Northbrook, Illinois, prosecutors claimed.
The counterfeiting included the reproduction of actual works by the artists as well as the sale of fakes executed in each one’s particular style, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Nancy Miller, one of the prosecutors assigned to the case.
Fitzgerald urged art buyers to be wary. “Proceed with caution and seek guidance,” he said.
Some of the forgeries were made in Spain and Italy, Fitzgerald said. Others were created by one of the defendants, Leon Amiel Jr. of New York.
Amiel was indicted with art dealer James Kennedy of Northbrook, Illinois. Amiel allegedly distributed 2,500 counterfeit prints of work by Chagall and Calder. Kennedy is accused of traveling the country selling fakes as genuine limited-edition prints. The duo face nine counts of fraud and a demand to forfeit $1 million.
Kennedy’s lawyer, Michael B. Mann of Maywood, Illinois, declined to comment on the allegations.
In the larger of two cases, five people face 10 counts of fraud for their roles in importing forgeries from Europe and selling them through another Northbrook art dealer, Michael Zabrin. Prosecutors seek to recover $4 million from these defendants, Fitzgerald said.
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