Foundry Owner Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison in $11 Million Scheme to Sell Fake Sculptures Attributed to Jasper Johns and Other Prominent Artists
Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that BRIAN RAMNARINE was sentenced in Manhattan federal court to 30 months in prison for fraudulently selling and attempting to sell, for more than $11 million, bronze sculptures that he falsely represented to be works of art by prominent artists Jasper Johns, Robert Indiana, and Saint Clair Cemin. RAMNARINE pled guilty in January 2014, on the fifth day of trial, before U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl, who also imposed today’s sentence.
Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “Brian Ramnarine’s only art was as a con artist who concocted and carried out not one, but three separate schemes to peddle fake sculptures to unsuspecting buyers for millions of dollars, pretending that they had been made by well-known artists. I would like to thank the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Police Department of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the New York State Police for their assistance on this case.”
According to the Indictment, to which RAMNARINE pled guilty, evidence presented at trial, and statements made in Manhattan federal court:
In 1960, Jasper 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 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 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 Flag 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 RANMARINE 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 Purported 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 Flag, 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.
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In addition to the prison sentence, RAMNARINE, 60, of Queens, New York, was sentenced to three years of supervised release, and ordered to forfeit $34,250 and the fake sculptures and to pay $34,250 in restitution to his victims.
Mr. Bharara praised the Federal Bureau of Investigation 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 and Cybercrime Unit of the United States Attorney’s Office. Assistant United States Attorney Daniel B. Tehrani is in charge of the prosecution.