Art Dealer Fraud – Former London and Miami Art Dealer Pleads Guilty to Art Fraud of Over $86 Million

Damian Williams, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, announced today that INIGO PHILBRICK, an art dealer specializing in post-war and contemporary fine art with galleries in London, United Kingdom, and Miami, Florida, pled guilty today before United States District Judge Sidney H. Stein to one count of wire fraud for perpetrating a multi-year scheme to defraud various individuals and entities in order to finance his art business.  In total, PHILBRICK fraudulently obtained more than $86 million as a result of the scheme.

            U.S. Attorney Damian Williams said: “Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who took advantage of the lack of transparency in the art market to defraud art collectors, investors, and lenders of more than $86 million to finance his art business and his lifestyle.  Philbrick has now admitted his guilt and awaits sentencing for perpetrating this extensive fraud.”

According to the allegations in the Complaint, Indictment, and statements made in court:

From approximately 2016 through 2019, to finance his art business, PHILBRICK engaged in a scheme to defraud multiple individuals and entities in the art market located in the New York metropolitan area and abroad.  PHILBRICK made material misrepresentations and omissions to art collectors, investors, and lenders to access valuable art and obtain sales proceeds, funding, and loans (the “Fraud Scheme”).  PHILBRICK knowingly misrepresented the ownership of certain artworks, for example, by selling a total of more than 100 percent ownership in an artwork to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge; and by selling artworks and/or using artworks as collateral on loans without the knowledge of co-owners, and without disclosing the ownership interests of third parties to buyers and lenders. PHILBRICK furnished fraudulent contracts and records to investors to artificially inflate the artworks’ value and conceal his scheme, including a contract that listed a stolen identity as the seller.

Over the years, PHILBRICK obtained over $86 million in loans and sale proceeds in connection with the Fraud Scheme.  Artworks about which PHILBRICK made these fraudulent misrepresentations in furtherance of the Fraud Scheme include, among others, a 1982 painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Humidity,” a 2010 untitled painting by the artist Christopher Wool, and an untitled 2012 painting by the artist Rudolf Stingel depicting the artist Pablo Picasso.

By in or about the fall of 2019, PHILBRICK’s Fraud Scheme began to come to light as various investors and lenders learned about the fraudulent records PHILBRICK had provided and the material misrepresentations and omissions he had made.  By in or about mid-October, a lender officially notified PHILBRICK that he was in default of approximately a $14 million loan, and by November 2019, various investors had filed civil lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions regarding PHILBRICK’s Fraud Scheme in connection with various artworks.  At around the same time, PHILBRICK’s art galleries in Miami and London closed, and PHILBRICK stopped responding to legal process.  PHILBRICK fled the United States shortly before public reporting began about the lawsuits.  A fugitive, PHILBRICK resided in Vanuatu from approximately October 2019 until he was arrested there on June 11, 2020, in connection with this case.

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PHILBRICK, 34, a U.S. citizen previously residing in London, United Kingdom, pled guilty to one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum prison term of 20 years.  The statutory maximum sentence is prescribed by Congress and are provided here for informational purposes only, as any sentencing of the defendant will be determined by a judge.  PHILBRICK is scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Stein on March 8, 2022 at 12:00 p.m.

Mr. Williams praised the investigative work of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Art Crime Team.

This case is being handled by the Office’s Money Laundering and Transnational Criminal Enterprises Unit.  Assistant United States Attorneys Jessica K. Feinstein and Cecilia E. Vogel are in charge of the prosecution.

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