Department of Justice Has Charged An L.A. Resident In A Forged Artworks Scheme
LOS ANGELES – Philip Righter (42) of L.A. was arrested in California on fraud and ID theft charges on July 19th. A scheme to sell forged artworks by prominent contemporary artists landed him a hefty indictment in South Florida on August 6th.
An indictment contains mere allegations. The defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty in a court of law. Ariana Fajardo Orshan, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, FBI, announced:
“He was indicted on charges of wire fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1343; mail fraud, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1341; and aggravated identity theft, in violation of Title 18, United States Code, Section 1028A(a)(1).”
The California resident allegedly conducted a scheme to defraud the owner of a South Florida art gallery, among others. The indictment listed Righter’s materially false representations. He would allegedly concealed facts regarding authenticity and the source of artworks “purportedly created by deceased artists K.H. and J.M.B.”
One source of the forged and fraudulent artworks was the eBay online marketplace. Righter created fraudulent letters of authenticity bearing names of legitimate reps of artists’ estates.
He took the ruse one step further by designing custom-made embossers to stamp authentication letters with the names of the deceased artists.
Righter made offers to sell the artworks to various potential buyers. He enlisted third-party brokers to sell to auction houses and a South Florida art gallery.
The indictment shows Righter directing the art gallery’s owner to make a $1,056,000 payment for the forged art.
U.S. Atty. Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI Miami Field Division, assisted by the FBI L.A. Field Division and the L.A.P.D.
Also thanked was the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of CA for its assistance. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Atty. Christopher Browne.
Righter was granted a $100,000 bond, following the initial CA appearance. His Aug. 6th arraignment in Miami was before U.S. Magistrate Judge Alicia M. Otazo-Reyes.
A conviction could land Righter up to 20 years’ imprisonment on wire fraud and mail fraud charges, and a consecutive, two-year term of imprisonment on each of the aggravated identity theft charges. The court may also impose a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the counts alleged in the indictment.