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Miami, FL – Yesterday, in federal court in Miami, a 43-year-old Los Angeles man pled guilty to defrauding a South Florida art gallery by trying to sell forgeries of works by renowned contemporary artists Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat to the gallery’s owner for more than $1 million.
Ariana Fajardo Orshan, United States Attorney for the Southern District of Florida, and George L. Piro, Special Agent in Charge, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Miami Field Office, made the announcement.
According to court records, Philip Righter’s fraud scheme started with buying art forgeries on-line, at marketplaces and auction sites. Once he had the fakes, Righter tried to make them appear legitimate by creating letters that falsely certified their authenticity. For example, he created letters that appeared to be from “The Estate of Keith Haring” and the “Authentication Committee of the Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat.” In fact, they were not. Righter even designed and purchased embossers bearing the names of Haring and Basquiat. He stamped the fake letters with the custom embossers, trying to sharpen the look of legitimacy.
With the forgeries and letters in hand, Righter offered to sell the fraudulent art pieces to a South Florida gallery, auction houses, and others. When the gallery owner showed interest, Righter (who was in Los Angeles) shipped a number of the forgeries to a warehouse in South Florida. Righter’s price for the forgeries was $1,056,000. He directed the gallery owner to wire the money to Righter’s bank account.
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Righter pled guilty to one count of mail fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. His sentencing hearing is set for May 18, 2020, at 9:30 a.m. before United States District Judge Marcia G. Cooke. Righter faces up to 20 years in prison on the mail fraud charge. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a minimum prison sentence of two years, in addition to whatever Righter receives for mail fraud.
Righter also faces federal charges in the Central District of California, where he allegedly sold forgeries of works by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein, and Andy Warhol.
U.S. Attorney Fajardo Orshan commended the investigative efforts of the FBI’s Art Crime Team. Assistant United States Attorney Christopher Browne is prosecuting this case.
You may find a copy of this press release on the website of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Florida at www.usdoj.gov/usao/fls. You may find related court documents and information on the website of the District Court for the Southern District of Florida at www.flsd.uscourts.gov or on http://pacer.flsd.uscourts.gov.