Auctioneer 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 artworks that were marketed as works by Jean-Michel Basquiat was sentenced on Friday to probation and community service for his role in the scheme, prosecutors said.

The man, Michael Barzman, avoided jail time for his role, which he eventually admitted involved working with an associate to create between 20 and 30 fake pieces that were promoted for sale as if they were genuine Basquiats. The fake Basquiats were displayed last year at a highly touted exhibit at the Orlando Museum of Art, the F.B.I. said.

A judge in United States District Court in Los Angeles sentenced Barzman to three years’ probation, 500 hours of community service and a fine of $500, a spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office said.

The fake Basquiats have roiled the Orlando Museum of Art, which promoted the exhibition heavily and staked its reputation on maintaining that they were genuine. But after a report by The New York Times in February 2022 raised questions about the authenticity of the works — noting that one was on a piece of cardboard that bore a FedEx typeface not used until after Basquiat’s death — the F.B.I. raided the museum and seized the paintings in question.

The museum’s board fired its director, Aaron De Groft, days after the F.B.I. raid, and the museum was later placed on probation by the American Alliance of Museums. This week, the museum sued De Groft and several co-owners of the paintings, accusing them of fraud, conspiracy and breach of contract.

Prosecutors in Los Angeles had asked for a sentence identical to the one Barzman ultimately received, acknowledging in court records that the defendant “had a difficult life, physically and emotionally,” and that his “struggles with substance abuse and financial difficulties likely contributed to some of the unfortunate decisions he made.”

In a sentencing memo, Joel C. Koury, a lawyer for Barzman, wrote that his client “is never going to reoffend.”

“The impact of this offense will resonate with Mr. Barzman for the rest of his life,” the court documents said. “His friends and loved ones have noted repeatedly how ashamed and embarrassed Mr. Barzman is because of his conduct.”

The authorities have said their investigation into the fake Basquiats is ongoing.

Matt Stevens

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