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Press Release

Hawaii Couple Charged With Fraud And Money Laundering For Selling Counterfeit Art

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Middle District of Pennsylvania

HARRISBURG - The United States Attorney’s Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania announced the unsealing of an indictment charging Earl Marshawn Washington, age 60, and his wife, Zsanett Nagy, age 31, both residents of Honolulu, HI, with conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering, and charging Washington separately with bank fraud and conspiracy to commit bank fraud.

According to United States Attorney Gerard M. Karam, the indictment alleges that from 2018 to 2021, Washington and Nagy sold counterfeit artistic goods known as “woodblocks” or “woodcuts” to various buyers and then laundered the proceeds from the sale of those goods. According to the indictment, xylography is the art of making “woodcuts,” or engravings made from wooden blocks, especially for printing using historical techniques. In traditional xylography, an artist uses a sharpened tool to carve a design into the surface of a woodblock. The raised areas that remain after the block has been cut are inked and printed, while the recessed areas that are cut away do not retain ink and will remain blank in the final print. Woodblock images can be printed onto paper, fabrics, textiles, or other materials. The technique has been used in different geographic regions at different times. One woodblock tradition stems from Germany starting around the 14th century and continuing for several hundred years thereafter.

The indictment also alleges that Washington and Nagy sold inauthentic woodblocks and prints made from woodblocks that they advertised as being from between the 15th and early 20th centuries. The buyers included a pair of woodblock collectors residing in France, as well as a buyer of a woodblock print who then resided in Hummelstown, PA. The buyers of the woodblocks in France allegedly made $84,350.91in PayPal payments to Nagy before learning that the woodblocks they purchased were not from the 15th and 16th centuries, as advertised. According to the indictment, Nagy received these payments through PayPal, moved the proceeds to a bank account in her name, and then quickly converted the proceeds to cash through withdrawals of several thousand dollars at a time.  It is alleged that Washington admitted to one of the French buyers as being the creator of the woodblocks sold to the French buyers.

Washington is also charged with defrauding a collector of woodblocks from York, PA. The indictment alleges that this collector paid Washington, who used the alias “River Seine,” and his then girlfriend, $118,810 from 2013 to 2016 in exchange for approximately 130 woodblocks, again advertised as being several centuries old. The indictment alleges that at least some of these woodblocks were, in fact, made in the second half of the twentieth century.

“If you promise people one thing and sell them another, that’s fraud, plain and simple,” said Jacqueline Maguire, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Philadelphia Division. “Here we had collectors paying for what they believed were old, rare, and valuable woodblocks and prints, but what they allegedly received were none of the above. The FBI’s Art Crime Team is uniquely positioned to investigate matters like this and committed to holding art fraudsters accountable.”

The indictment contains forfeiture allegations seeking over $200,000 from Washington and Nagy collectively, which is allegedly the amount they received from buyers of their counterfeit artistic goods.

This case was investigated by members of the FBI's Art Crime Team assigned to the Philadelphia Division. Assistant U.S. Attorney Ravi Romel Sharma is prosecuting the case.

The maximum penalty under federal law for conspiracy to commit wire fraud, mail fraud, and money laundering is 5 years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine. The maximum penalty under federal law for wire fraud is 20 years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine. In addition, Washington faces a maximum penalty under federal law for conspiracy to commit bank fraud and bank fraud of 30 years of imprisonment, a term of supervised release following imprisonment, and a fine. A sentence following a finding of guilt is imposed by the Judge after consideration of the applicable federal sentencing statutes and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines.

Indictments and Criminal Informations are only allegations. All persons charged are presumed to be innocent unless and until found guilty in court.

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Updated January 17, 2023

Topics
Financial Fraud