Forgeries Included Works Purportedly by Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell

This is an interesting story. The world of art forgery is a complex one, and often one misunderstood. Forgery is rarely a copy of a painting, rather the creation of a new work that is ascribed to the artist. Almost as important to the actual painting is the ‘provenance’, the paper trail, where has it been? Who has been in possession of it?

Simon

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that ERIC IAN HORNAK SPOUTZ, a/k/a “Robert Chad Smith,” a/k/a “John Goodman,” a/k/a “James Sinclair,” was sentenced today to 41 months in prison by U.S. District Judge Lewis A. Kaplan for wire fraud charges arising out of his sale of dozens of forged artworks purportedly by renowned American artists such as Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Eric Spoutz made a lucrative ‘career’ selling forged art as originals from American masters like De Kooning, Kline and Mitchell. From creating fake documents to assuming new identities, Spoutz used the full palette of deception to complete his decade-long work of fraud, swindling art collectors out of more than a million dollars. Now, thanks to the dedicated work of the FBI and the prosecutors in my Office, Spoutz will spend time in a federal prison.”

According to the allegations contained in the criminal complaint and information and other documents in the public record, and statements made in court:

Since at least 2006, SPOUTZ engaged in a fraudulent scheme to sell works of art he falsely claimed were by well-known artists, using forged documents to convince buyers of the authenticity of those works. During the course of the scheme, SPOUTZ sold dozens of fraudulent works of art – which he attributed to, among others, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell – through various channels, including auction houses and on EBay.

SPOUTZ was publicly accused of selling forged works of art as early as 2005, after which he began selling them under various aliases, particularly “Robert Chad Smith” and “John Goodman.” To deceive his victims into believing the works of art were authentic, SPOUTZ created and provided forged receipts, bills of sale, and letters from deceased attorneys and other individuals.

These documents falsely indicated that SPOUTZ, in the guise of one of his false identities, had inherited or purchased dozens of works by these artists. Despite his efforts to create false histories for the artwork, investigators identified multiple inconsistencies and errors in SPOUTZ’s forged provenance documents. Many of the purported transactions took place before SPOUTZ was born, and the forged letters included nonexistent addresses both for the purported sender and various parties referenced as sources of the artworks. SPOUTZ also consistently used a single distinctive typesetting when forging documents purportedly authored by entirely different art galleries in different decades regarding unrelated transactions. In one instance, investigators located the original letter used by SPOUTZ as a model for one of his forgeries in a collection at a private university, which holds letters from the individual whose identity SPOUTZ used to create a false story of inheritance.

In total, SPOUTZ stole at least $1,450,000 from his victims over the course of a decade of fraudulent art sales.

* * *

In addition to the prison sentence, SPOUTZ, 33, of Mount Clemens, Michigan, was sentenced to three years of supervised release. Judge Kaplan also ordered SPOUTZ to forfeit $1,450,000 in ill-gotten gains and to pay restitution in the amount of $154,100.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI’s Art Crime Team.

The case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit. Assistant United States Attorney Andrew C. Adams is in charge of the prosecution.

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