Prominent art dealer accused of selling forgeries

NEW YORK (AP) – A prominent New York and Miami art dealer was arrested on charges of selling forged paintings bearing the names of famous artists including Henri Matisse, Marc Chagall and Tom Wesselmann.

Guiseppe Concepcion was arrested Friday in Miami on wire fraud and interstate transportation of stolen property charges brought in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Prosecutors said Concepcion induced customers to buy the forgeries between 2005 and 2007 as he operated in Manhattan and out of the Proarte Gallery in Miami. But Concepcion’s lawyer said the dealer was a law-abiding, dedicated art enthusiast who had not committed any crime.

A criminal complaint unsealed Friday said Concepcion acquired authentic works by the renowned artists and then acquired or commissioned forgeries of the paintings.

Concepcion falsely represented to buyers that the forged versions were genuine or deliberately failed to disclose that they were forgeries, the complaint said.

One victim paid $120,000 and traded a 2004 Bentley to Concepcion to cover the $180,000 price tag of a purported Alexander Calder oil painting titled Red Swirl and dated 1969, prosecutors said in court papers.

The Calder Foundation inspected the canvas and determined it was fake, prosecutors said.

They said the same person had bought about 14 other artworks from Concepcion, and experts determined those also were forgeries.

The complaint listed two other victims. One bought a purported Chagall watercolor for $125,000, while the other bought a purported Wesselmann oil called Study for Smoker #16, the complaint said. Both, it added, were found to be fake.

Defense lawyer Mark Heller said Concepcion had been under investigation for several years and would be exonerated. “I sincerely believe they will not be able to convict him of any crime because his conduct at no time was criminal,” Heller said.

Heller said he was aware of questions about the authenticity of at least one artwork, but he noted that it had been bought and sold by various other dealers on its way to Concepcion.

“Clearly, anything can happen on its way through the marketplace. To persecute and accuse my client when it passed through the hands of other dealers is unfair and makes him a scapegoat,” he said.

Bail was set at $500,000. If convicted, Concepcion could face up to 30 years in prison.


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