Renton Man Pleads Guilty to Wire Fraud in Connection with Fake Chihuly Glass Sales
Admits He Made More Than $40,000 by Falsely Claiming Art was Chihuly’s
|U.S. Attorney’s Office June 19, 2013|
A 35-year-old Renton, Washington man pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court in Seattle to wire fraud in connection with his scheme to advertise and sell fake Chihuly artwork, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan. Michael Little admits he bought various pieces of generic glasswork and artwork over the Internet and falsely claimed to buyers that it was authentic Dale Chihuly work. Little made at least $40,000 selling the fakes. Little will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik on October 4, 2013.
According to records in the case, between 2011 and April 2013, Little offered for sale or sold various pieces of glass art and paintings that he represented were the original work of Dale Chihuly. Little marketed the works via eBay. The artworks bore a signature that appeared to be Chihuly’s, and Little provided paperwork that he said authenticated the pieces as the work of Dale Chihuly. However, an expert in Chihuly’s work examined the pieces at the request of a number of the purchasers and determined they were fakes. The papers that were supposed to authenticate the works were forged. Little told various stories to potential buyers about how he had acquired the Chihuly work, including that his family had purchased the pieces after winning the lottery.
Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The case was investigated by Seattle-Tacoma Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST Seattle), led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI). BEST Seattle is comprised of members from HSI; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations; the U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Port of Seattle Police Department. BEST Seattle investigates smuggling and related crimes and combats criminal organizations seeking to exploit vulnerabilities at the Seattle and Tacoma seaports and adjacent waterways.
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Diggs.
Press contact for the U.S. Attorney’s Office is Emily Langlie at (206) 553-4110 or Emily.Langlie@usdoj.gov. For pictures of some of the fakes seized by investigators contact Andrew Munoz at ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations at (206) 442-1450 or Andrew.Munoz@ice.dhs.gov.