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US man pleads guilty to duping art buyers with fake Basquiats and Warhols | US news

A Los Angeles man has agreed to plead guilty to federal charges of art fraud after trying to sell $6m worth of forged paintings by the likes of Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Philip Bennet Righter, 43, sold paintings he claimed were produced by such modern-art household names as Warhol, Keith Haring and Roy Lichtenstein, federal prosecutors said on Tuesday.

According to an indictment filed for similar charges Righter faces in the southern district of Florida, he acquired the fake pieces through eBay and other online marketplaces. He then forged accompanying certificates of authenticity, or COAs, which are letters that attest to the genuineness of artwork.

Righter went so far as to purchase custom-made embossers bearing insignia of the estates of Basquiat, Haring, and other artists. He used them to stamp the COAs, lending the documents an appearance of legitimacy.

In August of 2017, Righter listed a work he claimed was a 1983 painting by Basquiat with the word “SAMO” written across it on an art-sales website. The site sold the piece for $50,000. The painting was determined to be fraudulent in 2018, at which point the website was forced to refund the full purchase price to the buyer.

Righter admitted to using the forged works as collateral for loans, as well as for fraudulent write-offs on federal income tax returns.

An image of a bogus Basquiat painting released with the indictment of Righter.

An image of a bogus Basquiat painting released with the indictment of Righter. Photograph: HANDOUT

In October 2016, one victim of the loan-fraud scheme wired $24,000 to Righter, on which he later defaulted, thereby forfeiting another forged Basquiat. When the victim tried to auction off the piece, the auction house determined it was fraudulent and of no resale value.

On his 2015 federal income tax return, Righter included a fraudulent W2 form and declared a donation of forged art to a charity, resulting in a refund of $54,858. That same year, he filed an amended tax return claiming some art worth more than $2.5m had been stolen from his home. This resulted in retroactive loss refunds for the prior three years, totaling $52,485. In reality, the purportedly stolen art was forged and worthless.

In August of 2016, the Los Angeles police department reportedly questioned Righter about a fake Keith Haring painting he attempted to sell to a Miami art gallery. Officers warned Righter against continuing to market forged works, but he persisted under various pseudonyms until at least June of 2018.

Righter, a colorful and well-known figure on West Hollywood’s art and social scenes, is apparently no stranger to deception. An Instagram account confirmed to belong to Righter describes him as the winner of Emmy, Grammy, and Academy awards, though no record of anyone by the name of Philip Righter being nominated for any such recognition exists. Righter is credited as a producer for a single project – a 2016 short film called The Good Waiter.

Additionally, criminal records indicate that Righter was arrested and charged in Montgomery county, Pennsylvania, in 2009 for several misdemeanors. These included theft by deception and false impression. He was sentenced to 24 hours of community service in lieu of incarceration.

In total, Righter attempted to con individuals and organizations out of more than $6m and caused losses of at least $758,265. His fraudulent tax returns cost the US government more than $100,000. Once guilty pleas are entered on all charges – fraud, aggravated identity theft, and tax fraud – Righter will face a statutory maximum of 25 years in federal prison. The first hearing on charges pending in southern Florida is scheduled for 11 March.

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