Queens Foundry Owner Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Orchestrating $11 Million Scheme to Sell Fake Jasper Johns Sculpture
Defendant Also Pled Guilty to Fraud in Connection with His Sale of Fake Sculptures Attributed to Two Other Prominent Artists
|U.S. Attorney’s Office January 28, 2014|
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced that Brian Ramnarine pled guilty yesterday to fraud charges arising from his attempt to sell a bronze sculpture that he falsely represented to be a genuine work of art by Jasper Johns, as well as his sales of bronze sculptures that he falsely represented to be the work of two other artists, Robert Indiana and Saint Clair Cemin. Ramnarine pled guilty yesterday before U.S. District Court Judge John G. Koeltl on the fifth day of a jury trial.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “Brian Ramnarine is a serial fraudster who attempted to peddle not one but multiple fake sculptures in three separate fraud schemes—the last two of which occurred after he had already been arrested and was facing charges for the first. Ramnarine now stands convicted and, with his admission of guilt, will pay for his fraud.”
According to the Indictment to which Ramnarine pled guilty, evidence presented at trial, and statements made during the plea proceeding:
In 1960, Johns created a painting titled “Flag,” which he gave to fellow artist and friend Robert Rauschenberg. Years later, Johns made a mold (the “Flag” mold) from that painting in order to make a sculpture. In 1990, Johns provided the “Flag” mold to Ramnarine, who owned a Queens, New York foundry. Johns instructed Ramnarine to use the “Flag” mold to make a wax cast. Ramnarine completed the wax cast and gave it to Johns, but he never returned to Johns the “Flag” mold from which the wax cast was made.
In 2010, Ramnarine began representing to various members of the art world that he owned a bronze sculpture, titled “Flag,” that was an authorized Jasper Johns work of art created in 1989 (the purported 1989 bronze sculpture). In an effort to identify a purchaser for the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, he showed it to a representative of an auction house who specialized in the sale of rare art and to an art dealer. Around the same time, Ramnarine also attempted to sell the purported 1989 bronze sculpture directly to an art collector. At Ramnarine’s direction, several art brokers were in frequent contact with the art collector and with the art collector’s representative regarding the possible sale of what was represented to be a genuine and authorized Jasper Johns work of art. Through an art broker to whom Ramnarine had shown the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, Ramnarine informed the art collector’s representative that he would sell it for approximately $11 million.
After the art collector expressed doubts about the authenticity of the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, Ramnarine provided false and fraudulent documents and information in an effort to deceive the art collector into believing that the artwork was genuine. For example, Ramnarine stated that the purported 1989 bronze sculpture was a gift from Johns. To support that assertion, Ramnarine provided an art broker with a letter dated August 23, 1989, purportedly from Johns, along with other documents that falsely and fraudulently reflected that the Ppurported 1989 bronze sculpture was a genuine Johns work of art and that it was owned by Ramnarine.
In truth, the purported 1989 bronze sculpture was a fake. Johns never authorized its production nor did he transfer ownership to Ramnarine. Instead, against Johns’s earlier instructions and without authorization, Ramnarine used the original “Flag” mold provided by Johns to make the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, dated it “1989,” and forged Johns’s signature on the back of the sculpture.
Ramnarine was arrested in November 2012 on charges arising from his attempt to sell the purported 1989 bronze sculpture. Shortly after his arrest and while he was on bail, Ramnarine engaged in two new schemes to defraud an online art gallery located in Queens (the gallery). In particular, Ramnarine sold to the gallery two fake sculptures, titled “Two” and “Orb,” that he falsely claimed had been made and authorized by Robert Indiana and numerous fake sculptures that he falsely claimed had been made and authorized by Saint Clair Cemin. The gallery paid Ramnarine tens of thousands of dollars for the phony sculptures.
Ramnarine, 59, of Queens, New York, pled guilty to three counts of wire fraud. He faces a maximum sentence of 20 years on count one, and a maximum sentence of 30 years on each of counts two and three because those offenses were committed while Ramnarine was on bail. Ramnarine is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Koeltl on May 30, 2014, at 10:00 a.m.
Mr. Bharara praised the FBI for its outstanding work in the investigation. He also thanked the Port Authority of New York/New Jersey Police Department and the New York State Police for their assistance.
The case is being handled by the Complex Frauds Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office. Assistant United States Attorneys Zachary Feingold and Daniel B. Tehrani are in charge of the prosecution.
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