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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
Southern District of New York

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Michigan Art Dealer Arrested And Charged With Fraud For Selling Dozens Of Forged Artworks Over Five Years

Alleged Forgeries Include Works Purportedly By Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell

Preet Bharara, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Diego Rodriguez, the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Field Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced the arrest of ERIC IAN HORNAK SPOUTZ, a/k/a “Robert Chad Smith,” a/k/a “John Goodman,” a/k/a “James Sinclair,” on charges of wire fraud in connection with the sale of dozens of forged artworks by renowned American artists, such as Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell. SPOUTZ was arrested in Los Angeles today and will be presented before U.S. Magistrate Judge Gail Standish of the Central District of California this afternoon. 

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said:  “As alleged, Eric Spoutz used false and fictitious provenance to peddle his forged artwork to unsuspecting buyers, claiming they were masterpieces from Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell.  Our Office has a long history of investigating – and prosecuting – those who try to contaminate the art world with fraudulent artwork.  Thanks to the outstanding investigative work by the FBI, Spoutz’s alleged forgery mill is no longer in business.”

FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said: “As alleged, Eric Spoutz created an entire world of fiction to make a profit—from the fraudulent paintings he was selling, to the phony letters and receipts for provenance. The only real thing in this situation seems to be the financial losses the victims have incurred for purchasing what they thought were true works of art, whether for investment purposes or personal enjoyment.”

According to the allegations contained in the Complaint[1] and other documents in the public record, and statements made in court:

Between 2010 and March 2015, SPOUTZ repeatedly sold works of art he falsely claimed were by well-known artists, using forged documents to convince buyers of the authenticity of those works.  During the course of the scheme, SPOUTZ sold dozens of fraudulent works of art – which he attributed to, among others, Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell – through various channels, including auction houses and on EBay.

SPOUTZ was publicly accused of selling forged works of art as early as 2005, after which he began selling them under various aliases, particularly “Robert Chad Smith” and “John Goodman.”  To deceive his victims into believing the works of art were authentic, SPOUTZ created and provided forged receipts, bills of sale, and letters from deceased attorneys and other individuals.  These documents falsely indicated that SPOUTZ, in the guise of one of his false identities, had inherited or purchased dozens of works by these artists. 

Despite his efforts to create false histories for the artwork, investigators identified multiple inconsistencies and errors in SPOUTZ’s forged provenance documents.  Many of the purported transactions took place before SPOUTZ was born, and the forged letters included non-existent addresses both for the purported sender and various parties referenced as sources of the artworks.  SPOUTZ also consistently used a single distinctive typesetting when forging documents purportedly authored by entirely different art galleries in different decades regarding unrelated transactions.  In one instance, investigators located the original letter used by SPOUTZ as a model for one of his forgeries in a collection at a private university, which holds a collection of letters from the individual whose identity SPOUTZ used to create a false story of inheritance.

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SPOUTZ, 32, of Mount Clemens, Michigan, is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.  The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.

Unknown victims may have purchased artwork from SPOUTZ unwittingly under provenance documents using historical names such as “Betty Parsons Gallery,” “Larry Larkin,” “Henry Hecht,” and “Julius or Jay Wolf.”  If you believe you are a victim and purchased a fraudulent painting, please call the New York Art Crime Team at 212-384-1000, attention Special Agent Chris McKeogh or Special Agent Meridith Savona.

The case is being prosecuted by the Office’s Money Laundering and Asset Forfeiture Unit.  Assistant United States Attorney Andrew C. Adams is in charge of the prosecution.

The charges contained in the Complaint are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.

 


[1] As the introductory phrase signifies, the entirety of the text of the Complaint set forth below constitute only allegations, and every fact described should be treated as an allegation.

16-028
Updated February 3, 2016