Federal prosecutors charged a Queens foundry owner, Brian Ramnarine, with wire fraud in connection with his attempts to sell an unauthorized copy of Jasper John’s “Flag” sculpture for $11 million. According to prosecutors, Ramnarine, the owner of Empire Bronze Art Foundry, in Long Island City, was given a mold of the sculpture that the artist created in 1960 in order for him to make a wax cast for Mr. Johns.
Prosecutors allege that Mr. Ramnarine made the wax cast for Mr. Johns and never returned the mold to the artist. Instead, prosecutors allege that Mr. Ramnarine created an unauthorized copy of the sculpture, gavfe it a false date, forged John’s signature on the back of it, created fraudulent documents to trick potential buyers and attempted to sell the sculpture for $11 million.
If convicted of wire fraud, Ramnarine faces up to 20 years in prison. See a copy of the indictment here: http://www.justice.gov/usao/nys/pressreleases/November12/RamnarineArrestPR/Ramnarine,%20Brian%20Indictment%2012%20Cr%20826.pdf.
Incidentally, Mr. Ramnarine was indicted by the Queens DA in 2002 for defrauding two wealthy art collectors of $140,000 by selling them copies of original metal sculptures by three sculptors which he claimed were genuine, authorized originals but which actually were unauthorized copies that were worthless. See http://queensda.org/Press%20Releases/2002%20Press%20Releases/10-0ctober/10-10-2002a.htm.
This case highlights the need for art collectors to conduct due dilligence. Fraud is one of the many pitfalls awaiting the unwary collector.
UPDATE (JANUARY 28, 2014) :
Brian Ramnarine, 59, pleaded guilty to three counts of wire fraud in Manhattan federal court. During the hearing he acknowledged that he had falsely claimed that the artists had authenticated the sculptures that prosecutors said he created from molds he kept after being paid by the artists to do work. In addition, when questioned by U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, Ramnarine admitted he knew what he was doing was wrong and illegal when he committed the crimes.