Dealer Pleads Guilty To Sale Of Phony Lithograph
Connecticut art dealer David Crespo is no stranger to legal entanglements. Before he recently pleaded guilty for selling fake Marc Chagall and Picasso works on the Internet, the owner of the Brandon Gallery in Madison was sued by a fellow art dealer in 2008.
The dispute was over who owned a $220,000 collage created by the famous surrealist Salvador Dali.
The collage, featuring an abstract image of the face of the Greek goddess Minerva, was sold at Sotheby's auction house in New York. Crespo and the other dealer, Philip Sofaro, each claimed the money from the sale should go to them.
After a lengthy series of pre-trial motions over who owned the work, "Folle Folle Folle Minerva," a federal judge found the evidence of ownership presented by the Long Island gallery more credible than Crespo's records. Crespo appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, which in 2010 said it had no jurisdiction over the matter.
From there, things went downhill fast. Last year, Crespo was arrested and charged in an undercover sting operation. Federal authorities accused him of selling fraudulent pieces of work from famous artists on the internet auction site eBay.
Like the civil case, the criminal matter largely hinged on Crespo's records of what he bought and sold.
Crespo is the latest art dealer in Connecticut to face charges related to his business dealings. Last month, James Meyer, a former assistant to artist Jasper Johns, was indicted for selling 22 works that he allegedly stole from Johns' studio in Sharon. Meyer is facing the charges in federal court in Hartford.
In a state with plenty of money and plenty of art galleries, lawyers who represent clients in probate or family law matters that include high value art works said scams and frauds are a constant threat. Imitation art works, created with the help of high-tech printers and computer software, are becoming the biggest problem, one lawyer said.
"The art fraud situation is obviously getting worse," said Allan P. Cramer, of Cramer & Ahern in Westport. He's represented high-profile artists in sales of their works, which generally start at over $100,000. "Just about every art dealer has gotten stuck at least once."
Attorney Barry Werbin, of Herrick, Feinstein in New York City, took the technology angle one step further.