Federal prosecutors allege that a Florida interior designer and a New York art consultant cooked up a scheme to buy art from Sotheby’s using a Florida retiree’s identity, and have charged both men with wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft, the Associated Press reports. Though the duo did manage to defraud the auction house of $5 million by capturing works by Mark Rothko and Ad Reinhardt at auction in the fall of 2017 using the woman’s identity, the plot was quickly foiled when Sotheby’s called her to follow up on the purchases, and she denied any knowledge of bidding.
The interior designer, a Hallandale, Florida man named Antonio DiMarco, had the woman, who was one of his clients, sign a letter that she thought would simply give him access to the auction, but actually allowed him to bid on her behalf. DiMarco and art advisor Joakim von Ditmar then bought an untitled Mark Rothko from 1968 for $6.4 million, and Ad Reinhardt’s No. 12 (1950) for $1.16 million. Even after the fraud was discovered, Sotheby’s was in the hole for $5 million, as it had to pay the works’ consignors regardless. The auction house told the AP that it recovered much of the money by reselling the Rothko, and is putting the Reinhardt piece back on the auction block.
Robert Wittman, a former FBI agent who founded the bureau’s Art Crime Team, told the AP that the plot “was not a good fraud,” adding: “They clearly did not think this all the way through.”