A River North art gallery owner has been charged with selling allegedly phony artwork he passed off as original works by masters such as Salvador Dali and Marc Chagall.
Theindictment of Alan Kass and two others comes more than three years after federal agents raided Kass' gallery in the 300 block of West Huron Street and is part of what prosecutors have described as an international fraud scheme that bilked thousands of buyers.
According to the charges made public Wednesday, Kass collected more than $480,000 in the 17-year scheme from hundreds of victims throughout the United States and around the world. Also indicted were Sawyer K. Cade, who worked at Kass/Meridian Gallery, and John Panos, of New York and Florida, who allegedly distributed forged artwork to Kass and other dealers across the country.
Nine others have previously been charged in the scheme, including Michael Zabrin, a Northbrook art distributor who first surfaced in the murky world of fraudulent art in 1992 when he was charged with a Magnificent Mile art gallery owner for peddling counterfeit limited-edition fine art prints.
"The art world has always struck me in how elegant yet crooked it could be," said former Chicago FBI agent Robert Spiel, who specialized in art theft. "I am not saying 90 percent of everybody involved is selling fakes. But there can be big fancy galleries who are doing it."
Kass, 73, and Cade, 47, allegedly sold the fake work on eBay and at auctions, according to the indictment. At times, they also provided false certificates claiming the artwork was authentic.
Panos, 64, was accused of forging signatures of legendary artists, including Chagall, Alexander Calder and Pablo Picasso.
At one point Kass and Cade were kicked off eBay for violating the company's rules against selling counterfeit goods, according to court documents.
The counterfeit art included "Green Bird," a lithograph by Marc Chagall; "Still Life with Lemon and Glass," a lithograph by Roy Lichtenstein; and "Horse and Rider," by Dali.
They allegedly collected $4,500 in payment for "Still Life with Lemon and Glass." In another instance, an auction house paid them $8,482.50 for several pieces of work, including a fake Lichtenstein work titled "Hopeless."