Michigan art dealer arrested by FBI for selling forgeries

Reuters News
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Posted: Feb 03, 2016 6:18 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A Michigan art dealer was arrested by the FBI on Wednesday for what authorities say was an extensive scheme to sell counterfeit works by renowned artists including Willem de Kooning.

Eric Spoutz, 32, was charged with wire fraud in a complaint filed in Manhattan federal court and arrested at an apartment he has in California, a spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigation said.

Spoutz's lawyer did not respond to a request for comment.

According to the complaint, Spoutz from 2010 to March 2015 sold dozens of forged works by famed American artists, including de Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell, creating fake documentation to sway buyers of their authenticity.

Diego Rodriguez, head of FBI's New York office, said Spoutz "created an entire world of fiction to make a profit."

Authorities said Spoutz operated under a series of aliases including "Robert Chad Smith" and "John Goodman," after a website in 2005 accused him of offering forged artwork on eBay.

To create a history of prior ownership, Spoutz forged letters from law firms and art galleries and created fake receipts and bills of sales, the complaint said.

His explanations of where the artwork came from varied, the complaint said.

In 2006, Spoutz said he bought the works from "a couple different private collections" and marketed them with "no assurance of authenticity."

That claim was contained in an article calling Spoutz an "Art-World Powerbroker" that he himself submitted to a press release service after the 2005 forgery accusations.

To a Connecticut auction house in 2010 to which he provided two Mitchell pastel works on consignment, Spoutz, calling himself "Robert Smith," claimed he inherited them from someone who died in 1976, the complaint said.

But that individual actually bequeathed his entire art collection to Dartmouth College, the complaint said.

During an FBI interview in 2014, Spoutz, a resident of Mount Clemens, Michigan, claimed to have acquired 30 works by de Kooning, prompting an agent to ask where they came from, the complaint said.

"That's the big question," Spoutz replied, the complaint said.

He claimed that in 2003, an employee introduced him to someone with an "as attributed" collection to sell, and that he bought works attributed to Mitchell, de Kooning, Kline and Arthur Dove, the complaint said.

But the complaint said Spoutz claimed to have no documentation or proof of purchase for these pieces or contact information for the seller or his employee.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Bernard Orr)