Hamptonite Arrested for Peddling Fake Jackson Pollocks on eBay

Ex-con ran eBay forgery scheme for eight years.

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The FBI has taken into custody an East Hampton man for an eBay-based art forgery scheme that netted nearly $1.9 million for over 60 fake Jackson Pollock paintings, reports East Hampton Star.

Allegedly, 54-year-old John D. Re began his eBay racket in 2005, telling private collectors who responded to his listings that he had come into a cache of Pollock paintings in 1999 while clearing out the basement of Barbara Schulte, an East Hampton woman whose husband George, a woodworker and antique restorer, had died three years prior. Schulte later moved to Marblehead, Mass., and died in 2013.

Re was arrested Friday June 27 by East Hampton Village police for driving with a suspended license, and was turned over to the FBI. He has since been released on $150,000 bond. His previous brushes with the law include a 1995 conviction as part of a counterfeit money ring, probation violations, leaving the scene of an accident, and weapons-related charges.

While it is unclear who created the forged works, the complaint notes that Re is also a painter and his work is “Abstract Expressionist in style.” Re used shill bidders to drive up the price on his auctions.

Of more than 60 faux-Pollocks sold, 58 went to Re’s first buyer, identified as “Collector 2,” for a total of $519,890, while an additional 12 works went to “Collector 1” for $894,500, and “Collector 3” bought three for $475,000. Two other collectors were also involved.

The Forgery Scheme Began to Crumble

The FBI describes the individual prices paid for each piece by Collector 2 as so far below market (ranging from about $1,000 up to $60,000) that it should have been obvious they were not real. Unsurprisingly, the forgery scheme began to crumble when the collectors showed their finds to outsiders.

In 2007, when an expert examined one of the pieces, Collector 1 discovered that the “materials in the painting were not available during Pollock’s lifetime.” Likewise, Collector 2 turned to the International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) for authentication help in 2011, despite Re’s efforts to dissuade him with “horror stories” about the organization and “the expert bullshit.”

Eventually, IFAR examined 45 paintings and found them all to be fake, noting that as a group, the paintings were “remarkably, and disturbingly, analogous to each other in palette, composition, and overall execution, much more similar, in fact, than any of Pollock’s authentic works are to each other.” The organization also found that “several members of Mr. Schulte’s immediate family, as well as his close friends, informed IFAR that Mr. Schulte never claimed to own artworks by Pollock.”

Collector 3 also uncovered the paintings’ shady provenance when a Manhattan art dealer attempted to wipe away a smudge of dirt after licking his finger, and some paint came off.

The FBI Gets Involved

As part of the FBI investigation against Re, the scammer’s email correspondence was monitored. “I BELIEVE I HAVE FOUND WHAT WOULD BE CONCIDERED THE GREATEST CONTEMPORARY ART FIND IN HISTORY,” Re wrote to Collector 2 in 2011.

Re’s phone line was also tapped during a call with Collector 3 back in November 2013, in which Re threatened the collector for not returning two of the paintings, saying “I grew up in Brooklyn, okay? My mother’s from the Bonanno family, which means Gambino. If you got to call me back one more time, your mother’s going to start wondering why you stopped visiting her.”

Meredith Savona , an FBI agent in the art theft and art fraud division, interviewed Re last month, ahead of the arrest. He denied claiming the paintings were authentic during the course of the sale, but email records included in the complaint find statements to the contrary: “This is a very strong Pollock. Slight crackling throughout, and a very little browning on the front. More on the rear. Not bad for a 62 to 64-year-old painting that has been in a basement for maybe 55 of those years.”

“Re said he would take the weight for anything he did that was wrong, but that he did not think he had done anything wrong,” Savona wrote in her report.

News of a similar scheme in the UK run by a vicar’s son also broke this weekend (see Telegraph report).

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