Art fraud: Miami pastor faces charge after trying to sell art

The art market is rather tricky. With many works being stolen, sometimes multiple times, the process of confirming the paintings history to make sure it is not a fake can be rather complicated for an art seller and an art buyer. In other cases, since counterfeit art is so popular, a seller could even honestly believe a piece of artwork is real only to later find out it is a fake and end up facing charges for art fraud.

A pastor from Miami, Florida, recently pleaded not guilty to second-degree attempted larceny. While his defense is yet to be presented, going by the criminal complaint there is reason to believe he will claim he did not know the painting he was trying to sell to Sotheby's auction house was a fake.

In looking at the case, the 45-year-old reportedly contacted the auction house in December and tried to sell a painting by British modern artist Damien Hirst. The painting is reportedly worth between $120,000 and $140,000 and the pastor said he had the provenance, or documentation of the art's history, to prove the authenticity of the painting.

However, the authentication service that reviewed the painting found the Hirst piece to be a fake and the auction house rejected the piece. After the piece was rejected, the pastor reportedly tried to sell the painting, along with some other Hirst pieces, to an art dealer. Little did he know at the time, but the art dealer was really an undercover detective.

It should be noted here though that it appears the auction house informed the pastor of the rejection through email. In the criminal complaint, the pastor admits that he did not fully read through the entire email, which points to the possible defense of not knowing the painting was a fake before trying again to sell it.

This type of alleged crime - art fraud - is actually more popular than one might think. In fact, with an $80 billion art market, it is estimated that roughly 40 percent of the pieces for sale are actually fake.

Looking to the future, the pastor is due back in court on April 25. In the meantime, the FBI, which has an entire unit dedicated to art fraud, will continue to investigate and pursue criminal charges against those believed to be selling fake art.

Source: CNBC, "Florida Pastor Accused of Art Fraud," March 12, 2013

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