A California man has been sentenced to five years in federal prison for attempting to sell over $6 million worth of forged paintings he claimed were by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat, among others. On Wednesday Philip Righter, who resides in West Hollywood, pleaded guilty to wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and tax fraud, per the Associated Press. He received a five-year prison sentence for the attempted sale of forgeries to an art gallery in Miami.
Righter conducted the scheme from 2016 through 2018, passing the forgeries off as authentic artworks through counterfeit documents, some of which were stamped with phony embossed stamps used by the estates of dead artists. He appeared to substantiate the documents by referencing the name of a gallery which previously sold works by Basquiat.
In his guilty plea earlier this year, Righter admitted to using a portion of proceeds from the sales for income tax write-offs. In October 2016, Righter leveraged what he claimed was an original drawing by Basquiat as collateral for a $24,000 loan, which he never repaid. According to the U.S. Attorney’s office, the victim attempted to sell the drawing to an auction house, which quickly determined that the work was a forgery.
In 2017, Righter sold a purported 1983 work by Basquiat, bearing the artist’s “Samo” tag, on an art sales website for $50,000. After the piece was deemed a counterfeit, the website was forced to refund the full amount to the buyer. In his plea agreement, Righter also admitted to having knowingly filed fraudulent tax returns, including a false donation to an art charity, which resulted in his receiving a refund of $54,858. In total, his false tax returns cost the United States government more than $100,000.