Former Birmingham Art Dealer Pleads Guilty to $1.5 Million Fraud Scheme
DETROIT - A former Birmingham, Michigan art dealer pleaded guilty to defrauding more than 10 customers who had entrusted her with the sale of their art of over $1.5 million, United States Attorney Dawn N. Ison announced today.
Joining in the announcement was Devin J. Kowalski, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Detroit Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and Scott Grewe, Chief of the Birmingham Police Department.
Wendy Halstead Beard, 58, pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud before United States District Judge Judith E. Levy. The crime arose from a multi-year scheme in which Beard received fine art photography prints on consignment, sold the artwork without the knowledge of the owners, kept the profits for her own personal gain, and continually deceived the owners about the status of their photographs.
According to the plea agreement, beginning in approximately March 2019 and continuing through October 2022, Beard executed a scheme to defraud a number of her customers. The purpose of the scheme was for Beard to embezzle the proceeds from the sale of multiple fine art photographs that had been provided to her by her customers on a consignment basis.
Throughout the scheme, Beard attempted to lull her victims into a false sense of security by offering excuses for her unwillingness or inability to promptly return the victims’ photographs after the expiration of the operative consignment agreements. These excuses consisted of, among other things, exaggerating the severity of her own health problems, including claiming (1) to have recently been in a coma and (2) to have received a double-lung transplant. In other instances, Beard told her victims that there was a lack of interest among potential purchasers—despite having already sold the photographs in question. Beard also created fake “employee” identities which she used to correspond with her victims in a further effort to deceive them.
In the plea agreement, Beard acknowledged defrauding more than ten victims over the course of her scheme. She further admitted that at least one victim was vulnerable due to the victim’s advanced age. According to court records, the government asserts that the losses associated with the scheme are at least $1.5 million.
Sentencing is set for December 12, 2023 before Judge Levy.
“This defendant swindled numerous families out of valuable artwork and lied to them repeatedly in order to keep her fraud scheme afloat,” said U.S. Attorney Ison. “She did this for no reason other than to line her own pockets at the expense of her victims. There is no place for this kind of criminal deceit in our community, and today’s conviction holds this defendant accountable for her conduct.”
“With today’s plea, Ms. Beard has taken a first step towards accepting responsibility for her criminal behavior,” said Devin J. Kowalski, Acting Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Detroit Field Office. “The FBI remains committed to investigating art fraud and to seeking justice for those affected by this type of scheme.”
The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Ryan A. Particka and Adriana Dydell. The investigation is being conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Birmingham Police Department