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Former Madison Art Gallery Owner Pleads Guilty

Published 09/03/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 09/03/2013 03:30 PM

Press release from the United States Attorney, District of Connecticut
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David J. Crespo, 59, of Guilford, pleaded guilty today to one count of mail fraud stemming from his sale of fraudulent artwork, according to Deirdre M. Daly, acting United States attorney for the District of Connecticut, and Kimberly K. Mertz, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Crespo was an art dealer who conducted business under the name Brandon Gallery in Madison.

In August 2012, Crespo was charged in a 12-count indictment alleging that he defrauded his customers by falsely representing that artwork he sold were original pieces by Pablo Picasso and original signed lithographs by Marc Chagall. Crespo pleaded guilty before Senior U.S. District Judge Ellen Bree Burns in New Haven to Count 12 of the indictment, which relates to the fraudulent sale of an imitation Marc Chagall lithograph.

According to court documents and statements made in court, Marc Chagall is widely considered to be among the greatest and most influential artists of the 20th century, and original lithographs of his work can be of substantial valuable. An original lithograph is an authorized reproduction of a piece of artwork, map, or text that has been created using a distinctive printing process. They may be signed by the artist or author and, depending on their condition, can be of substantial value. Unlike other reproduction techniques that rely on the negative image being etched or raised on the print, lithography uses a smooth surface, typically, stone tablets or a metal plate, to transfer the image.

Crespo obtained reproductions of original Chagall lithographs, but represented to potential customers that they were, in fact, original lithographs that had been produced through an artistic lithographic method, and under the direction and authority of Marc Chagall.

In January 2010, Crespo met with an undercover FBI agent at Brandon Gallery. During the course of the conversation with the undercover agent, which was recorded, Crespo held himself out to be an expert in high-end art. Crespo and the agent discussed a lithograph known as The Presentation of Chloe, which Crespo represented, among other things, was an “original lithograph” that was part of a limited edition collection made from “stone plates” from which multiple impressions were made from “the same plate.” The agent agreed to purchase the purported lithograph for $2,000.

In May 2012, Crespo shipped the purported lithograph along with a Certificate of Authenticity, which valued the piece at $12,750 “for insurance purposes,” stated that piece was “hand signed by Chagall in crayon after the artist personally examined this particular example,” and represented that “[t]his work came from the collection of Richard Riskin, a longtime friend of the artist.”

In fact, Crespo had not obtained the purported Chagall lithograph from the estate of Richard Riskin, as no such person existed, and Crespo knew that the piece was not a limited edition original lithograph manufactured under the artist’s direction using stone plates, but was a photo-mechanical production that was removed from a common edition book.

In November 2012, the FBI conducted a search of the Brandon Gallery and found packages of Chagall prints and practiced Chagall signatures.

Judge Burns has scheduled sentencing for Nov. 26, at which time Crespo faces a maximum term of imprisonment of 20 years. Crespo also may be ordered to pay restitution to any victims of his offense.

Crespo has been released on bond since his arrest on April 3, 2012.

This matter is being investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Madison Police Department. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Anthony E. Kaplan and Liam Brennan.

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