Three men charged for selling works forged by American modernists –


The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Illinois released an indictment last week charging three men with fraud in a scheme to create and sell fake paintings, including those by American modernists Ralston Crawford, George Ault and Gertrude Abercrombie.

The three men identified in the complaint are two Michigan brothers, Donald Henkel and Mark Henkel, and Raymond Paparella of Boca Raton, Florida. The three defendants pleaded not guilty at an arraignment in Chicago on April 21.

In July 2020, the FBI raided Donald Henkel’s home as part of an investigation into the scheme. Reports at the time identified that some of the forged works were sold at Chicago’s Hindman auction, and two of them were purchased at auction by Hirschl & Adler, a New York gallery.

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The filing lists more than 10 victims, who are identified only as auction houses, art galleries or collectors based in various locations, including New York, London, Dallas, northern Illinois, La Pennsylvania, California and Michigan.

The alleged scheme ran from 2005 to 2020 and involved at least three alleged paintings by Crawford, six by Ault and one by Abercrombie. Several items were sold for over $50,000 each, with the highest price paid being just under $400,000. In total, the indictment identifies at least $1.8 million having changed hands.

According to the indictment, which was originally filed on April 12, 2022 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, Donald Henkel, whose aliases included DB Henkel, Donavan Kelly and Bruce Kelly, was the head of the scheme. He “created fake works of art and memorabilia, then had these items sold, and attempted to sell them, to potential buyers or victims by presenting the items as genuine”.

Henkel often allegedly sold the works directly to buyers, but sometimes, according to the indictment, Mark Henkel recruited “co-schemers and others to pose as sellers, often referred to as straw sellers”, to conceal that the Henkel brothers were the real sellers.

Paparella is identified as having been a straw seller in the indictment. The filing also lists five other unidentified plotters, some of whom are identified as relatives of the Henkels.

Although described only as an Illinois-based auction house in the indictment, the main victim of the scheme was Hindman Auctions, headquartered in Chicago with offices across the country, in cities like Atlanta, Denver and Cleveland.

It was Hindman who first alerted the FBI to the forgeries, after a customer contacted the house about doubts about the authenticity of an unnamed work. “After a thorough investigation, including forensic analysis, their painting was found to be inauthentic. That’s when we contacted the FBI as the tampering was extremely sophisticated,” said Jay Krehbiel, Co-Chair and Hindman CEO. art diary in 2020. (Hindman declined to comment for this article on the unsealed indictment news.)

The program’s most valuable item, a fake Crawford painting titled Exton Silo Smithpassed through Hindman, where it sold for $395,000 at a sale in May 2016. The sale is significant because it is the fifth most expensive work Crawford has ever listed at auction, according to the Artnet price database.

As well as providing a false provenance for the artwork, the indictment alleges that Donald “falsely made the painting appear to be one of Crawford’s works, including adding a signature that resembled Crawford’s signature” .

The auction house also sold three fake paintings by Ault: Farm on top of a hill for $47,500, Stacks 1st Ave.for $372,500, and Morning in Brooklyn for $336,000. Ault’s last two works were purchased by Hirschl & Adler at auction. If they had been genuine, Stacks 1st Ave. and Morning in Brooklyn would have been Ault’s third and fifth most expensive works ever sold at auction, respectively.

In an email to ART newsthe gallery said it returned the works to Hindman several years ago and was therefore “not part of any other holdings with anyone during the investigation”.

Hindman also sold the fake Abercrombie, titled Go home, for $93,750 at auction. At its auction in 2019, Go home was the second most expensive work ever sold at auction listed by Abercrombie. In the past two years, six works have since topped the price.

Another faked work by Ault, titled The farm, was sold to a New York gallery, which learned about the work through the owner of an art gallery in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The first paid $110,000 and the second $15,000 to Donald Henkel.

The New York gallery paid an unnamed co-conspirator an additional $75,000 to pay that person’s mortgage. According to the indictment, the painting, its provenance, and Ault’s signature on the work were all forged.

A third false painting by Ault, identified as Countryside road, was sold to two art galleries, one based in New York and the other based in Hudson, both specializing in Ault’s art, for $77,500. It is unclear how the two galleries are connected based on the indictment.

Three of the forged works, two by Ault and one by Crawford, were never sold, as the buyers ultimately refused to make the purchase after questioning the authenticity of the work.

In addition to doctored paintings, their scheme also included the sale of fake sports and music memorabilia, as well as Hollywood and Disney related items. Among the alleged fake autographs that had been applied to baseballs and bats were those of some of the sport’s biggest figures, including Lou Gehrig, Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner and Cy Young. In at least one case, an anonymous auction house refused to auction off a bat said to be signed by Ruth “after examination and testing”.

In its statement on the unsealing of the indictment, the US Attorney’s Office said, “The public is reminded that an indictment is not proof of guilt. Defendants are presumed innocent and are entitled to a fair trial in which the government bears the burden of proving their guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. »


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