California Man Pleads Guilty in $6 Million Art Fraud Case

Mr. Righter tried to sell the art between 2016 and 2018, prosecutors in California said. At first he sold the pieces using his real name, but began using other names after the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Los Angeles Police Department interviewed him in August 2016 about trying to sell art to a Miami art gallery, according to court documents.

In October 2016, Mr. Righter obtained a $24,000 loan using a false Basquiat drawing as collateral, and then defaulted on the loan, prosecutors said. When the lender tried to auction the drawing, it was revealed as a fake.

The various schemes caused people to lose at least $758,265, prosecutors said.

Mr. Righter was arrested in August on fraud and identity theft charges in South Florida, where the authorities said he tried to sell counterfeit art, obtained through online marketplaces like eBay, for more than $1 million to a gallery owner there.

According to the Florida indictment, Mr. Righter acquired forged and fraudulent artworks, claiming some of them bore the signatures of prominent artists. He also created fraudulent letters certifying their authenticity and embossed them, it said.

“With the forgeries and letters in hand, Righter offered to sell the fraudulent art pieces to a South Florida gallery, auction houses, and others,” a statement from the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of Florida said.

Mr. Righter, who was in California, told prospective buyers that he had inherited some of the works from his grandmother, the indictment and the attorney’s office statement said.

Experts say the problem of fraudulent art has grown with the proliferation of online art sales and more sophisticated methods of forging works like prints. Fake prints are often falsely attributed to Lichtenstein and Warhol, and fake works have frequently referenced the creations of artists like Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and Henri Matisse.

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