A West Hollywood man has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of selling fake modern art and using the bogus paintings for loans and write-offs on his income tax returns, officials announced Tuesday.
Philip Righter, 43, was charged in United States District Court with wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and tax fraud. His plea agreement was filed Tuesday.
He admitted to selling bogus art pieces by artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.
“In total, Righter’s scheme attempted to bilk victims out of well over $6 million, and he caused losses of at least $758,265,” according to a news release from the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. “Additionally, his fraudulent tax returns cost the United States more than $100,000.”
Righter used his scheme to defraud people and businesses between 2016 and June 2018, officials said. He claimed that the fraudulent art pieces he sold were genuine by providing chronology of origin paperwork that were actually documents he created.
Righter used his own name during the scheme until August 2016, when the FBI and the Los Angeles Police Department interviewed him regarding fake Keith Haring art he tried to sell to a Miami art gallery, officials said.
He then started using the names of other people to continue executing his scheme, court documents show.
Righter went through extensive means to make the bogus artwork look authentic, officials said.
He ordered and used embossing stamps that appeared similar to authentic stamps used by the estates of Basquiat and Haring to authenticate pieces.
He fraudulently and without authorization used the name and signature of Gerard Basquiat – Basquiat’s father and previous administrator of the artist’s estate – on fake chronology of origin documents, officials said. Righter also falsely used the name of a legitimate gallery where Basquiat art was previously sold.
According to the plea agreement, Righter obtained and tried to obtain several loans by using the fraudulent art and chronology of origin documents. In one example from October 2016, Righter used another name to contact a victim about a loan in which a purported original piece by Basquiat would be used as collateral. He created a fraudulent certificate of authentication letter he claimed came from Basquiat’s estate, and the victim wired a $24,000 loan, on which Righter later defaulted, officials said.
The victim then tried to auction the piece, but the auction house determined the piece was fraudulent.
Righter also sold or tried to sell several pieces of fake modern art, officials said. Using another person’s name again in August 2017, he listed a purported 1983 piece by Basquiat with the word “Samo” written on it on an art sale website and provided fake chronology of origin documents.
The website sold the artwork for $50,000, but the following year, when the piece was determined to be fake, website officials had to refund the buyer.
Righter admitted to using a false W-2 and a fake donation of fraudulent art to a charity in his 2015 federal income tax return, which resulted in him receiving a $54,858 refund.
“Righter then signed and filed a false 2015 amended tax return, which claimed a false casualty and theft loss of $2,575,000 related to artwork he claimed had been stolen,” officials said. “In truth, the artwork was fraudulent and had no value. This bogus amended tax return resulted in false carryback loss refunds for 2012, 2013 and 2014 totaling $52,485.”
The defendant also faces charges in the Southern District of Florida in connection with a $1 million attempted art fraud on the gallery in Miami, officials said.
The case against Righter was investigated by the FBI’s Art Crime Team, the LAPD and IRS criminal investigation unit.