Former Studio Assistant to Jasper Johns Charged in Manhattan Federal Court in $6.5 Million Scheme to Sell Stolen Johns Works
|U.S. Attorney’s Office August 15, 2013|
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and George Venizelos, the Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), today announced the unsealing of an Indictment charging James Meyer, a former assistant to artist Jasper Johns, with selling 22 works that he stole from Johns’ studio in Sharon, Connecticut. Meyer was arrested yesterday morning at his home in Salisbury, Connecticut, and appeared in federal court in Hartford that afternoon.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, James Meyer is the latest in a long line of thieves who sought to make millions through a fraud on the art world. Meyer, a former assistant to artist Jasper Johns, allegedly stole and resold a number of pieces he was charged with maintaining. His arrest underscores our commitment to exposing deception in this lucrative industry and holding fraudsters to account.”
FBI Assistant Director in Charge George Venizelos said, “As alleged, James Meyer exploited his position of trust to steal repeatedly from his long-time employer. That his employer is a renowned American artist only made the crime more lucrative. To convert the artworks to cash, Meyer allegedly engaged in a serial scheme to deceive the buyers of the art and the gallery through which they bought it.”
According to the allegations in the Indictment unsealed yesterday in Manhattan federal court:
Meyer was a studio assistant for Johns for over 25 years and was responsible for, among other things, maintaining a studio file drawer containing pieces of art that were not yet completed by Johns and not authorized by Johns to be placed in the art market.
Between September 2006 and February 2012, Meyer removed 22 individual pieces of art from the studio file drawer he was responsible for maintaining, and from elsewhere in Johns’ studio, and transported those pieces from the studio in Sharon to an art gallery located in Manhattan for the purpose of selling those works without the knowledge or permission of Johns. Meyer represented both to the owner of the gallery (the “gallery owner”) and to potential purchasers that these pieces had been given to him as gifts by Johns when, in fact, that was not true.
As part of his scheme to defraud, Meyer provided sworn, notarized certifications both to the gallery owner and to buyers stating that each piece was an authentic Johns work, that the art had been given to him directly by Johns, that he was the rightful owner of the piece, and that he had the right to sell that particular work. In addition, Meyer conditioned the sale of each of these works on the signed agreement by the purchaser that the art would be kept private for at least eight years, during which time the piece would not be loaned, exhibited, or re-sold.
Meyer also created fictitious inventory numbers for these pieces to give the impression that they were finished works that were authorized by Johns to be sold in the art market. Additionally, and to facilitate certain sales, Meyer created fake pages that he thereafter inserted into a ledger book of registered pieces of art maintained at Johns’ studio, and which he subsequently photographed, to give additional assurances to prospective buyers about the provenance, or history of ownership, of a particular piece.
During the course of his almost six-year scheme, the gallery owner sold 22 works of art on Meyer’s behalf for a total of approximately $6.5 million, of which $3.4 million was remitted directly to Meyer in sales proceeds.
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Meyer, 51, of Salisbury, Connecticut, is charged with one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison, and one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge Alvin K. Hellerstein is assigned to the case.
Mr. Bharara praised the FBI for its outstanding work in the investigation.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher D. Frey is in charge of the prosecution.
The charges contained in the Indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
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