California man pleads guilty to art and tax fraud, faces up to 25 years in prison

California man pleads guilty to art and tax fraud, faces up to 25 years in prison
Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Marketplace  -   Trafficking

After pleading guilty to selling millions in fake artworks, Philip Righter (43), a man living in California, could face up to 25 years in prison. Righter was charged with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, and tax fraud in a Los Angeles court Tuesday but also faces similar charges in Florida.

Righter, a self-proclaimed Emmy, Grammy, and Oscar award winner, admitted that he worked to sell fake artworks, purportedly by Modern art artists including Andy Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, and Roy Lichtenstein, in an attempt to con buyers out of more than $6 million in total. According to court reports, it appears Righter was fully aware of what he was doing, too.

Officials believe that between 2016 and 2018, Righter purchased artworks, like those by Basquiat, Warhol, and other artists, and falsified documents to support their provenance. Righter even went as far to acquire custom-made stamps baring the name of artist’s estates to further con victims. Righter also cited the Annina Nosei Gallery, who was Basquiat’s dealer, to create falsified provenances. One such fake was an alleged 1983 canvases by Basquiat that was sold for $50,000 in 2016. The online site that was over the sale has since refunded the buyer.

In Florida, Righter attempted to sale a Miami gallery a forged artwork that would have defrauded the gallery out of $1 million. In 2016, the FBI interviewed Righter in relation to this but he used fake names to evade investigators. A hearing was scheduled for yesterday in a southern Florida District Court in relation to these charges.

In 2015, it is reported that Righter falsified his tax returns stating that he made charitable donations, that were never realised, and that $2.5 million in art was stolen from his home. The art that was stolen was actually forged and therefore valueless. Finally, Righter was charged with wire fraud in events where he used artworks, which were fakes, as collateral in loans. Righter later defaulted on these loans and when the victims went to sale the artwork they thought they owned, they found out that the works in question were in fact fakes.

Overall, court documents report that Righter cost victims to his crimes at least $758,000 and the US government $100,000 in false tax returns.

‘Hopefully,’ said Erik Silber, LA prosecutor, in Court House News, ‘this will send a message from the FBI’s Art Crime Team and the United States Attorney’s Office that these types of cases will be fully prosecuted.’