East Hampton Man Pleads Guilty in Manhattan Federal Court to Fraudulent Sales of Purported Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning Artworks
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”), announced today that JOHN RE, 54, of East Hampton, New York, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud in connection with his nine-year scheme to defraud art collectors who sought to acquire works by famous American artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, which resulted in approximately $2.5 million in losses to victims. RE pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge P. Kevin Castel.
According to the allegations set forth in the Criminal Complaint, other documents filed in the case, and statements made at related court proceedings:
From at least March 2005 through January 2014, RE invented a false provenance, the history demonstrating an artwork’s authenticity, for dozens of paintings, sketches, and pastels that he sold to art collectors in order to extract thousands of dollars from his victims for every piece that RE sold. RE persisted in selling these artworks despite his knowledge that their provenance was falsified and despite repeated instances of de-authentication by respected appraisers and experts in the field of forensic analysis. In at least one instance, when confronted by a victim, RE resorted to threats of violence, claiming that his victim should be wary of RE’s purported connections to organized crime.
In his plea agreement, RE expressly acknowledged that he has never discovered or sold any work of art found in a home that formerly belonged to a purported acquaintance of Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, as RE had falsely represented to collectors, and RE further acknowledged that he knowingly and fraudulently fabricated such a provenance for every work of art to which he previously attributed such a provenance.
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RE, 54, of East Hampton, New York, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of twenty years in prison. The statutory maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge. RE also agreed to forfeit $2,500,000, representing the proceeds of RE’s sales of fraudulent artworks. In connection with today’s plea, Judge Castel issued a post-indictment restraining order that effectively restricts RE’s ability to sell a submarine—the “U.S.S. Deep Quest”—pending the satisfaction of RE’s forfeiture debt. RE purchased the submarine in Texas using proceeds he obtained from the fraudulent sale of a purported Jackson Pollock painting in the course of the scheme. RE is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Castel on April 10, 2015.
Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding efforts of the FBI, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office, and the Suffolk County Police Department in the investigation. Mr. Bharara also thanked the Village of East Hampton Police Department for their assistance with this case.
This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew C. Adams is in charge of the prosecution.