Fugitive Art Dealer Inigo Philbrick Has Been Arrested on a Pacific Island and Charged With Orchestrating a $20 Million Fraud Scheme

Philbrick was captured in Vanuatu and is being transferred to Guam for his first court appearance.

Inigo Philbrick, ©Patrick McMullan Photo by Clint Spaulding/PMC
Inigo Philbrick. Photo by Clint Spaulding, ©Patrick McMullan.

Art dealer Inigo Philbrick, who has been accused of defrauding collectors out of tens of millions of dollars, has been arrested by US Department of Justice (DOJ) agents and charged with operating a $20 million fraud scheme.

Based on the number of lawsuits and international asset seizure requests filed in the past eight months—which is around how long the embattled dealer has been in hiding—the total amount is likely to be far higher once the dust settles.

Philbrick, 33, is described in a DOJ statement as “a fugitive since October 2019.” He was charged with one count of wire fraud and one count of aggravated identity theft. The wire fraud charge carries a maximum prison term of 20 years. The aggravated identity theft charge carries a mandatory sentence of two years in prison.

Federal law enforcement agents took Philbrick into custody yesterday in the island nation of Vanuatu after local authorities “expelled” him at the request of the US Embassy, according to the DOJ. Philbrick was then transported to Guam, where he is expected to be presented in US federal court on Monday, June 15.

Flight records show that Philbrick departed the United States shortly before public reporting about the lawsuits was published. Based on information provided by Vanuatu, he had been residing in the island country since late October 2019.

“As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million,” US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Geoffrey S. Berman said in the statement. “You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams. When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country. Now he is in US custody and facing justice.”

“Philbrick allegedly sought out high-dollar art investors, sold pieces he didn’t own, and played games with millions of dollars in other people’s money. The game ended when investors began wondering where their money went,” FBI assistant director William F. Sweeney Jr. added, noting that “if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell.”

According to allegations unsealed today in Manhattan federal court, from approximately 2016 through 2019, Philbrick engaged in a scheme to defraud multiple individuals and entities in the art market as a means to finance his art business; he is accused of making material misrepresentations and omissions to art collectors, investors, and lenders to access valuable works of  art and obtain sales proceeds, funding, and loans; and he knowingly misrepresented the ownership of certain artworks by selling a total of more than 100 percent of the share in an artwork to multiple individuals, according to court records.

Philbrick is also accused of supplying investors with fraudulent contracts and records, including at least one document naming a stolen identity as a seller, to inflate artworks’ values and conceal his scheme.

The complaint mentions artworks that Artnet News has previously reported on as the subject of multi-million dollar lawsuits, including examples by Jean-Michel Basquiat, Rudolf Stingel, Christopher Wool, and others.

The alleged scheme began to unravel last fall as various investors and lenders learned about the fraudulent records. At around the same time, his art galleries in Miami and London were abruptly shuttered, and he stopped responding to the “legal process,” according to the DOJ statement.

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