Thursday, August 28, 2014

Art: Former Studio Assistant to Jasper Johns Pleads Guilty to Engaging in $6.5 Million Scheme to Sell Stolen Johns Works

U.S. Attorney’s Office 
Southern District of New York

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that JAMES MEYER, a former assistant to artist Jasper Johns, pled guilty in Manhattan federal court in connection with his sale of 22 works that he stole from Johns’ studio in Sharon, Connecticut. MEYER pled guilty today before U.S. District Judge J. Paul Oetken.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said: “James Meyer made millions by stealing and selling the valuable artworks that he was entrusted with maintaining. With his guilty plea today, Meyer will now have to pay for that decision.”

According to the Indictment, other documents filed in Manhattan federal court, and statements made at today’s guilty plea:

MEYER was a studio assistant for Johns for over 25 years, and was responsible for, among other things, maintaining a studio file drawer containing pieces of art that were not yet completed by Johns and not authorized by Johns to be placed in the art market.

Between September 2006 and February 2012, MEYER removed 22 individual pieces of art from the studio file drawer he was responsible for maintaining, and from elsewhere in Johns’ studio, and transported those pieces from the studio in Sharon to an art gallery located in Manhattan for the purpose of selling those works without Johns’ knowledge or permission. MEYER represented both to the owner of the gallery (the “Gallery Owner”) and to potential purchasers that these pieces had been given to him as gifts by Johns when, in fact, that was not true.

As part of his scheme, MEYER provided sworn, notarized certifications both to the Gallery Owner and to buyers stating that each piece was an authentic Johns work, that the art had been given to him directly by Johns, that he was the rightful owner of the piece, and that he had the right to sell that particular work. In addition, MEYER conditioned the sale of each of these works on the signed agreement by the purchaser that the art would be kept private for at least eight years, during which time the piece would not be loaned, exhibited, or re-sold.

MEYER also created fictitious inventory numbers for these pieces to give the impression that they were finished works that were authorized by Johns to be sold in the art market. Additionally, to facilitate certain sales MEYER created fake pages that he thereafter inserted into a ledger book of registered pieces of art maintained at Johns’ studio, and which he subsequently photographed, to give additional assurances to prospective buyers about the provenance, or history of ownership, of a particular piece.

During the course of the almost six-year scheme, the Gallery Owner sold 22 works of art on MEYER’s behalf for a total of approximately $6.5 million, of which $3.4 million was remitted directly to MEYER.

MEYER, 52, of Salisbury, Connecticut, pled guilty to one count of interstate transportation of stolen property, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for December 10, 2014, before Judge Oetken.

The maximum potential sentence in this case is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the judge.

Mr. Bharara praised the outstanding investigative work of the FBI.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Complex Frauds and Cybercrime Unit. Assistant U.S. Attorney Christopher D. Frey is in charge of the prosecution.