NEW YORK—A Los Angeles couple have pleaded guilty to defrauding art buyers by rigging auctions and selling fake artworks. They face a total of up to 16 years in federal prison when sentenced in September.
According to a statement issued by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation in early March, Kristine Eubanks, 49, and Gerald Sullivan, 51, of La Canada, Calif., operated live auctions, on satellite television channels, which purported to sell genuine works of art and jewelry.
The duo admitted that, among other things, they knowingly had sold art with forged signatures of Marc Chagall, Salvador Dalí and Pablo Picasso.
Eubanks and Sullivan confessed that the scam was connected with their show Fine Art Treasures Gallery, which aired on channels broadcast by DirecTV and the Dish Network. By their own admission, they had rigged auctions by creating false and inflated bids that raised the purchase price of works sold to the public during live auctions.
Eubanks and Sullivan also admitted to purchasing fake art as well as forging art at a print shop, and to mailing phony certificates of authenticity and false appraisals, among other documents. Consequently, “more than 10,000 victims paid over $20 million for bogus art products,” the Justice Department statement reports.
“The defendants in this case have admitted to profiting by preying on the vulnerabilities of producers and consumers of art through an elaborate criminal enterprise,” said J. Stephen Tidwell, assistant director in charge of the FBI in Los Angeles. “Today’s announcement should send a message . . . that the FBI considers art-auction fraud to be a significant and growing crime problem that is being addressed by the FBI’s
Art Crime Team.”
Eubanks faces a maximum statutory penalty of ten years in federal prison, while Sullivan faces a maximum of six years. Furthermore, the pair must forfeit nearly $4 million, along with various pieces of artwork that have been seized in the course of the investigation.