HomeDesignAuctioneer Who Helped Create Fake Basquiats Gets Probation

Auctioneer Who Helped Create Fake Basquiats Gets Probation

A Los Angeles man who pleaded guilty in April to making false statements to federal investigators about fake artwork that was marketed as the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat was sentenced Friday to probation and community service for his role in the scheme, prosecutors said.

The man, Michael Berzman, avoided jail time for his role, which he eventually admitted involved working with an accomplice to create between 20 and 30 fake pieces that were advertised for sale as if they were real Basquiats. The FBI said the fake Basquiats were on display last year in a highly popular exhibit at the Orlando Museum of Art.

A U.S. District Court judge in Los Angeles sentenced Berzman to three years of probation, 500 hours of community service and a $500 fine, a U.S. Attorney’s Office spokeswoman said.

The fake Basquiats plagued the Orlando Museum of Art, which heavily promoted the exhibit and risked its reputation to maintain that they were genuine. But after a February 2022 report in the New York Times raised questions about the work’s authenticity—noting that it was on a piece of cardboard with a FedEx typeface that wasn’t used until after Basquiat’s death—the FBI raided the museum and confiscated it. The picture in question.

Days after the FBI raid, the museum’s board fired its director, Aaron DeGroft, and the museum closed. Tested by the American Alliance of Museums. This week, the museum sued de Groft and several co-owners of the paintings, alleging fraud, conspiracy and breach of contract.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles sought a sentence similar to the sentence Bergman ultimately received, acknowledging in court records that the defendant “has had a difficult life physically and emotionally” and that his “struggles with substance abuse and financial hardship likely contributed in part to the unfortunate decisions he made.” .”

In a sentencing memo, Barzman’s lawyer, Joel C. Coury wrote that his client would “never reoffend.”

“The impact of this crime will resonate with Mr. Berzman for the rest of his life,” court documents said. “His friends and loved ones have repeatedly mentioned how ashamed and embarrassed Mr. Berzman is by his behavior.”

Authorities said their investigation into fake Basquiats is ongoing.


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