A Michigan Dealer Charged With Conning Collectors Out of More Than $1.6 Million Is Expected to Strike a Plea Deal
The dealer, Wendy Beard, faked life-threatening health scares and invented fake employees to dodge payments to clients.
A Michigan-based gallerist who concocted elaborate lies while allegedly defrauding collectors out of $1.6 million has reportedly struck a deal with authorities
The dealer, Wendy Beard, is expected to plead guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison, according to a report from the Detroit News. Her plea hearing is set for July.
Beard, 58, was arrested last October after a multi-year investigation by the FBI. Charges filed at the time alleged that the dealer, who operated the Wendy Halsted Gallery in the Detroit suburb of Birmingham, conned clients in a variety of ways, including accepting payment for artworks that she never delivered, and taking in artworks on consignment and then selling them without notifying their owners.
The dealer also went to great lengths to dodge payments and even invented several fake employees to cover for her absence. Five clients, including Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist J. Ross Baughman, claimed to have been scammed by Beard in an affidavit filed upon her arrests last year. Since then, other victims are believed to have come forward too.
In 2018, an unnamed 82-year-old art collector consigned an estimated $900,000 worth of photographic prints with Wendy Halsted Gallery. Among the group was Ansel Adams’s 1942 picture, The Tetons and the Snake River, Grand Teton National Park (1942), which Beard had appraised at $625,000. She later told the collector that she couldn’t sell the Adams print, but court documents revealed that the dealer actually consigned the piece herself through a Wyoming-based gallery, where it sold for $440,000.
When the collector asked for the print back, Beard claimed that she was suffering from pulmonary issues. In August of 2021, a gallery employee named “Julie” wrote that Beard had undergone lung transplant surgery.
A similar situation occurred that same year when the gallerist sold a different Adams photograph to a friend for $73,000. The print was never delivered to the buyer, though, and when he asked for it, Beard cited medical issues as the reason for the delay.
“On computer finally,” she wrote in an email to the buyer, per court documents. “Been a crazy last bit… Not all gone but at least out of the months [sic] long coma. Nice to see the sunshine sorry so short more later.”
“Beginning at least as early as March 9, 2019, and continuing through at least October 14, 2022,” Beard “knowingly devised and executed a scheme and artifice to defraud and obtain money and property by means of materially false and fraudulent pretenses and representations,” U.S. attorney Dawn Ison wrote in a summary of the charges again Beard that was filed in Michigan district court last week.
If Beard does indeed plead guilty, she will be required to pay back all proceeds and forfeit any property obtained through her fraudulent scheme.
Beard’s lawyer, Steve Fishman, told Artnet News that a plea deal is expected but otherwise declined to comment on the case.
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