F.B.I. Art Crime Team Investigation Leads to Conviction of California Man

On Behalf of | Apr 18, 2023 | Criminal Defense |

Latest Arrest of a California Auctioneer Who Created Counterfeit Basquiat Paintings

A California auctioneer, Michael Barzman, has pled guilty to his involvement in creating/peddling fake art and then lying to agents investigating pieces he helped sell online. Last summer, the F.B.I. seized 25 paintings from the Orlando Museum of Art that were purportedly attributed to deceased artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose famous works has been sold at auction for up to $110.5 million, but were actually counterfeits that Barzman and his co-conspirator made in less than 30 minutes before they sold them online.

Barzman and his co-conspirator, only referred to as “J.F.” in court documents, were able to deceive many art experts who made public declarations about their authenticity and even sometimes purchased the works or an interest in the artwork itself. However, after the F.B.I. seized the paintings, they were able to determine they were fraudulent by examining the materials to determine they would have been created after the artists death. This is just one case in a string of recent arrests orchestrated by the F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team, such as the arrest of a Florida art dealer who was arrested in 2022 of selling counterfeit artwork by Andy Warhol.

The F.B.I. Art Crime Team’s Expansion in Recent Years

The F.B.I. Art Crime Team is a specialized unit formed around 2003 in the wake of the war in Iraq and the looting of the Baghdad Museum that investigates and combats theft, fraud, and the trafficking of culturally significant artifacts. The specialized team, which has expanded in recent years to include two dozen agents stationed around the country, has been making headlines as their work is starting to lead to arrests. Given the highly specialized nature of their work and need to collaborate with experts in the field, bringing cases takes time, but as thefts and fraud increased during the pandemic, much of their work has started to see the light of day and further arrests, prosecutions, and convictions are expected in the future.

The Art Crime Team’s investigation is not confined to just works of art such as paintings. What started as a organizational goal to recover stolen artifacts that entered the United States has now expanded to include investigations of anything inauthentic or misrepresented, such as sports memorabilia, collectable stamps, even rare wine. In fact, enforcement is expected to increase as the F.B.I. has made a federal database of stolen art which enables prospective buyers to search an artist’s name and see what artifacts have been reported stolen, allowing the F.B.I. to be notified if any of said artwork appears for sale online or in person.

Investigations and prosecutions in these cases are complicated and can often involve the acquisition of international evidence and sophisticated actors. If you believe you are being investigated for or charged with so-called art fraud, counterfeiting, or related alleged swindles, you need an experienced defense attorney that can navigate through this and protect your interests. Contact Darryl A. Goldberg who has represented various individuals who have been investigated by the F.B.I.’s Art Crime Team and/or other federal and state law enforcement for the possession and/or sale of counterfeit artworks and goods in the past for a no cost consultation.


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