News and Press Releases

forfeiture of more than $15M worth of artwork sought
by u.S. attorney’s office



FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
March 1, 2013


 

NEWARK, N.J. – The United States has filed a civil asset forfeiture Complaint seeking a collection of artwork containing more than 2,200 pieces and valued at more than $15 million, U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman announced today.

The Complaint alleges that the artwork – bought with money from the sale of fraudulent credits for renewable fuel – was transported in interstate commerce knowing that it was the proceeds of fraud and was utilized in laundering the proceeds of fraud.

According to the Complaint:

Federal law requires gasoline and diesel refiners and importers to introduce renewable, non-fossil fuel into the national fuel mix. To ensure this, the Environmental Protection Agency created a system of credits known as “Renewable Identification Numbers” – or “RINs” – to track and boost renewable fuel production. The RINs can be obtained by:

· producing renewable fuel;
· importing renewable fuel produced by approved foreign producers;
· purchasing renewable fuel, with associated RINs, from approved domestic producers; and
· purchasing RINs without the underlying renewable fuel.

A market for RINs has developed, and thousands of RIN transactions are electronically recorded with EPA every week. Hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of RINs are exchanged every year.

A company known as Green Diesel held itself out as operating a facility in Houston, Texas, that generated biomass-based diesel fuel. It did not, however, actually generate any such biodiesel. From November 2007 through at October 2011, Green Diesel sold RINs to companies such as Shell Oil, BP, CITGO, and Exxon that were invalid because they did not, in fact, represent the production of any biodiesel at all. Purchasers of invalid RINs from Green Diesel have reported losses exceeding $78 million.

The owner of Green Diesel, Philip J. Rivkin, used part of the proceeds of the fraud to purchase at least $18 million worth of artwork, chiefly photographs. On Jan. 30, 2012, Rivkin caused 396 packages of artwork to be transported to a warehouse on Frelinghuysen Avenue in Newark. The artwork was stored there until late June 2012, when it was moved to a warehouse in New York on its way to Spain. On July 12, 2012, it was seized for forfeiture pursuant to a warrant issued by a U.S. Magistrate Judge Mark Falk in Newark.

The seized artwork has been appraised by New York Fine Art Appraisers, which concluded that it has a total fair market value of $15,773,128. Among the works sought by the Complaint are:

a. Gelatin silver print titled “Distortion no. 6, Paris” by artist Andre Kertesz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Philips De Prury & Company as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $42,500 for the piece and wired $60,000 as payment for the group of photographs on Nov. 9, 2010.

b. Gelatin silver print titled “Dunes, Oceano” by artist Edward Weston. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Sotheby’s as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $134,500 for the piece and wired $424,750 as payment for the group of photographs on Nov. 11, 2010.

c. Gelatin silver print titled “Death Valley” by artist Edward Weston. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Sotheby’s as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $16,250 for the piece and wired $424,750 as payment for the group of photographs on Nov. 16, 2010.

d. Albumen print titled “Notre Dame” by artist Eugene Atget. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida, LLC as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $130,000 for the piece and wired $1,267,000 as payment for the group of photographs on Feb. 8, 2011.

e. A 1907 platinum print titled “Nude Study, Miss Mabel Cramer” by artist Clarence Hudson White. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida, LLC as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $35,000 for the piece and wired $1,267,000 as payment for the group of photographs on Feb. 8, 2011.

f. A 1930 silver print titled “Equivalent” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Lee Gallery for $33,000. Rivkin wired $33,000 as payment for the photograph on February 28, 2011.

g. Gelatin silver print titled “Poplars, Lake George” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Joel Soroko Gallery for $51,000. Rivkin wired $51,000 as payment for the photograph on March 7, 2011.

h. Vintage warm-toned matte-surface gelatin silver print titled “Vortograph 1917” by artist Alvin Langdon Coburn. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida, LLC as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $175,000 for the piece and wired $1,400,000 as payment for the group of photographs on March 10, 2011.

i. Vintage gelatin silver contact print titled “From the Shelton, West” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida for $150,000. Rivkin wired $150,000 as payment for the photograph on March 31, 2011.

j. Vintage matte gelatin silver print titled “Knees (fragment)” by artist Edward Weston. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida, LLC as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $165,000 for the piece and wired $1,400,000 as payment for the group of photographs on March 31, 2011.

k. An 1894 platinum print titled “The Letterbox” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Lee Gallery for $35,700. Rivkin wired the $35,700 payment for the photograph on April 5, 2011.

l. Vintage gelatin silver print titled “Greta Garbo for Vanity Fair Hollywood” by artist Edward Steichen. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Paul Hertzman, Inc. Vintage Photographs for $75,000. Rivkin wired $75,000 as payment for the photograph on April 11, 2011.

m. Waxed palladium print titled “Georgia O’Keeffe” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Camera Lucida, LLC for $675,000. Rivkin wired $675,000 as payment for the photograph on April 12, 2011.

n. Gelatin silver print titled “Equivalent, 1925” by artist Alfred Stieglitz. The photograph was purchased by Rivkin from Bruce Silverstein Gallery, LLC as part of a group of photographs. Rivkin paid $55,000 for the piece and wired $150,000 as payment for the group of photographs on April 12, 2011.

Civil forfeiture cases are “in rem” proceedings—proceedings against “things.” In this case, the Complaint is against the seized artwork, not against the persons who committed the underlying unlawful acts or anyone else. The law permits persons claiming an interest in the property an opportunity to appear and present their cases that they are innocent owners of the property and the property should not be forfeited. Whether the United States is entitled to forfeit the property will be determined conclusively. When property is forfeited to the United States, the law allows the U.S. Department of Justice to utilize the property to reimburse victims of the underlying unlawful activity for their losses.

U.S. Attorney Fishman credited special agents from the EPA-Criminal Investigation Division, under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Ivan J. Vikin, Area Office in Dallas, Texas; and special agents from the U.S. Secret Service under the direction of Special Agent in Charge Cynthia Marble in Houston, Texas, and Special Agent in Charge James Mottola in New Jersey, for the investigation that led to the seizure of the artwork.

The government is represented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Marion Percell, Chief of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Asset Forfeiture and Money Laundering Unit, in Newark.

13-101

Green Diesel Complaint

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