Art gallery owner indicted in fake art scam

August 21, 2009 7:46:29 PM PDT
An art gallery owner in San Francisco's Union Square was indicted by a federal grand jury Thursday on charges he schemed to sell counterfeit prints by the Spanish surrealist painter Joan Miro.

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The grand jury charged Pasquale Iannetti, the owner and operator of Pasquale Iannetti Art Galleries on Sutter Street, with eight counts of mail fraud and seven counts of wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Iannetti is not in custody and a date for his initial appearance in federal court in San Francisco is not yet set.

According to the grand jury, from 2001 to 2008 Iannetti defrauded gallery customers by claiming the works were original Miro limited edition prints, when he knew they were not. The actual limited edition prints were made using a master impression either created by Miro or under his direct supervision, and which Miro then directly approved.

The counterfeit prints Iannetti acquired had forged signatures and other markings intended to make them appear as original prints, the grand jury alleged.

They further alleged Iannetti had gallery employees issue "certificates of authenticity" to purchasers of the counterfeit prints.

The probe of Iannetti and his gallery stemmed from an investigation of an international art fraud ring by the FBI, the U.S. Postal Service and Italian and Spanish law enforcement, which began in 2006.

The investigation found that art dealers in several states, California among them, were selling counterfeit prints of 20th century artists such as Miro, Picasso, Chagall and Warhol, which were made in Europe.

An Italian citizen, Elio Bonfiglioli, is believed to have distributed the fake prints. Federal authorities are seeking to have him extradited.

As part of the investigation, an undercover postal inspector posing as a gallery customer bought a counterfeit Miro print for $14,750 in December 2007. Customs officials in New York found the print in Bonfiglioli's luggage just before he visited the gallery in November.

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