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Art dealer pleads guilty to mail fraud

A New Orleans man recently pleaded guilty to a federal charge of fraud for involvement in a scheme in which forged paintings were sold to unsuspecting art collectors.

The man apparently worked for a New Orleans art dealer, and claimed that the forged works were those of Louisiana folk artist Clementine Hunter. The New Orleans man pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud on Monday in Alexandria, and faces up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000.

Hunter, who died in 1988 at age 101, reportedly taught herself to paint while living on a plantation in Natchitoches Parish. Her works portray scenes of plantation life and collectors pay thousands of dollars for her works.

Sources said the man was well known within the antique and art community, and owned a shop in Natchitoches before he began working for an antique and art dealer in New Orleans. He apparently used his employer's letterhead to advertise the forged works.

According to prosecutors, some of the paintings had been returned after customers discovered they were forgeries, and the man later resold them without revealing that the authenticity was in question. Sources said, however, that the man, in 2009 during an interview with the Associated Press, denied allegations that he knew the paintings were inauthentic.

According to federal prosecutors, the scheme involved a Baton Rouge couple, who have already pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges for involvement in the scheme.

Source: Danbury News Times, "LA. Man pleads guilty in art forgery case," Michael Kunzelman, August 8, 2011.

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