Seven Charged In International Counterfeit Art Scheme On eBay

The fake prints were supposedly mastered by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol, and other artists.

K.C. Jones, Contributor

March 20, 2008

2 Min Read

U.S. and Spanish prosecutors have charged seven people in Europe and the United States with producing counterfeit prints and selling them on eBay, while also collecting more than $5 million in a related scheme to defraud buyers.

U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, Patrick Fitzgerald, announced the charges, filed in two separate indictments, Wednesday. He said federal investigators traced the distribution of fake prints supposedly by Pablo Picasso, Marc Chagall, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Miro, Andy Warhol, and other artists, to Michael Zabrin, principal of Finartmasters and Zfineartmasters, and James Kennedy, principal in KFA, outside of Chicago.

The investigation continues, with participation by the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, the FBI, Catalan police in Barcelona, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, and local police.

A 10-count European indictment names defendants in Spain and Italy, as well as Jerome Bengis, of Florida, on fraud charges. It seeks the forfeiture of $4 million, aside from about $135,000 already seized from San Francisco bank accounts. U.S. authorities said they will seek extradition of European suspects Oswaldo Aulestia-Bach, and Elio Bonfiglioli, and Patrizia Soliani.

Aulestia-Bach and Bonfiglioli are accused of orchestrating the production of counterfeit prints with forged signatures and distributing them as limited edition prints. Soliani, Bengis, and Zabrin, are accused of reselling the prints to wholesale and retail outlets.

Another nine-count indictment charges James Kennedy, of Northbrook, Ill., with five counts of fraud and one count of obstruction of justice for allegedly threatening to injure someone who communicated with investigators. He has been held in Chicago without bond, pending a detention hearing next week. Investigators also accuse Kennedy of holding 61 auctions of counterfeit art on eBay and reaping more than $39,000 for them.

Leon Amiel, Jr., also known as "Leon Glass," principal in Glass Inter Corp., in New York City was charged with six counts of fraud in that indictment, which seeks forfeiture of $1 million.

The indictments outline an undercover sting in which Zabrin allegedly offered, through eBay, what he claimed were two1968 Picasso limited edition prints of etchings from the 347 Series, signed by the artist in pencil.

"These indictments are significant because they extend across international borders from one end of the supply chain to the other," Fitzgerald said in a prepared statement. "While we urge customers to exercise caution and skepticism of deals that appear too good to be true, we are determined to preserve the integrity of an open market."

Buyers who suspect that they are victims of fraudulent art sales can submit information to prosecutors through the U.S. Attorney's Web site.

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