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FBI Opens Probe of eBay Art Auction

June 7, 2000

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) _ The FBI is reportedly investigating whether groups of people are driving up prices on eBay and other Internet auction sites by bidding on each others’ items.

The probe was prompted by media reports about Sacramento lawyer Kenneth A. Walton’s attempts to sell a painting that bidders thought was by the late abstract master Richard Diebenkorn, The Sacramento Bee and The New York Times reported today.

An FBI duty officer in Sacramento, contacted by The Associated Press late Tuesday, declined comment. A message left with an FBI spokesman in Sacramento was not immediately returned.

Walton, 32, told the newspapers he had not been contacted by the FBI and knew nothing about an investigation.

No one knows if the painting is an original Diebenkorn, which have sold for millions. Walton made no such claim in his eBay listing, calling it a ``great big wild abstract painting″ he said he bought at a garage sale.

The bidding began April 28 at 25 cents. By May 8, a Dutch man named Rob Keereweer won the painting for $135,805. But it never changed hands.

Investigators for eBay voided the sale and barred Walton from the site after discovering that he had placed a $4,500 bid on the painting himself, using an online alias. Walton said that bid was made for a friend, and had ``absolutely no effect on the eventual price for which the painting sold.″

Self-bidding on an item is forbidden by eBay rules.

EBay officials said they were cooperating with the investigation, but declined further comment.

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