Local dealers nabbed in art fraud case

Officials: Thousands of victims across world
CHICAGO Two suburban Chicago art dealers- Michael Zabrin of Northbrook and James Kennedy of Chicago- were indicted in the fraud case, which, according to U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald brought in more than $5 million in two overlapping schemes. Thousands of people across the world may have bought into the scams, which sold fake prints primarily on the online auction site eBay. Some people paid up to $50,000 for a painting.

"Literally thousands of people in different countries, on different continents may come to learn that when they thought they bought an original work signed by Picasso or Dali or Chagall, they in fact bought a fake," said Fitzgerald.

A two-year investigation led to the arrests of the seven people in two cases: two suburban Chicago art dealers, a Florida art dealer, a New York man and three Europeans.

The first case involved five distributors and dealers. Those indictments allege some of the suspects manufactured prints in Italy and Spain, faked signatures, made false certificates, and then sold them to unsuspecting buyers.

"During the investigation, inspectors and agents traveled across the United States and to Europe, conducting interviews and purchasing bogus art in an undercover capacity. Those efforts led to today's mail and wire fraud charges," said Thomas Brady, U.S. Postal Inspection Service.

In the second case, James Kennedy of Chicago and Leon Amiel of New York are accused of selling and distributing counterfeit artwork.

The feds believe the defendants in both cases swindled about $5 million from victims.

"If you did not see the artist sign the product, paint, draw or produce the product, or you do not know where the seller got the product, proceed with caution and seek guidance from someone who is an authority on authenticating the product," said Robert Grant, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge.

Anyone who suspects he or she might be a victim of fraudulent art sales should submit information to law enforcement officials through the United States Attorney's Office, Northern District of Illinois, website usdoj.gov/usao/iln/

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