Feds Claim Breakup of Multi-Million Dollar Ring That Sold Phony Prints
NEW YORK (AP) _ Four women were charged Thursday in an $11 million counterfeiting ring that duped amateur collectors into buying fake copies of works by Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dali and other artists, officials said.
Officials announcing the results of an 18-month probe said authorities had seized more than 75,000 prints from the international scheme, which was based in New York.
″We believe this has cut off the single largest worldwide source of counterfeit prints of famous artists,″ said Lee R. Heath, chief U.S. postal inspector in New York.
In Washington, Barry Cutler, head of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said the investigation began when the FTC ″stumbled upon a gallery selling fake Dalis and other kinds of art.″
The fake prints allegedly were sold in U.S. cities including Chicago, Cleveland, Atlanta, Los Angeles and Honolulu, as well as in several European countries, authorities said.
Investigators said the scam preyed on tourists and people not knowledgeable about art, but tantalized by offers of signed, numbered ″limited edition″ prints of paintings by the artists, at bargain prices.
Deputy U.S. Attorney Thomas Roche said charges of conspiracy and mail fraud were filed against Hilda Amiel, 70, of Island Park, N.Y., her daughters, Kathryn J. Amiel, 47, and Joanne R. Amiel, 44, both of Rockville Center, N.Y., and her granddaughter, Sarina Amiel, 24, of Boston.
Police in Gladsaxe, Denmark, charged a dealer there as a key figure in the operation and seized 2,000 forged prints, according to the international police agency Interpol.
Another defendant, Thomas Wallace, 47, of Bellmore, N.Y., pleaded guilty earlier to mail fraud for selling fake prints to U.S. and Canadian art galleries. He faces up to five years in prison.
Officials said that a Brooklyn court last October froze Amiel family assets, including about $4 million in cash and property.