Feds charge Macomb dealer in forged art case

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Presenting himself as a Metro Detroit art dealer, historian and curator, Eric Ian Hornak Spoutz offered insight on works displayed in museums as well as elsewhere.

But federal authorities are painting another portrait of the Mount Clemens resident’s expertise. Spoutz, 32,was arrested Wednesday in California and charged with wire fraud in connection to selling dozens of forged works as renowned American artists such as Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell, officials said.

“As alleged, Eric Spoutz created an entire world of fiction to make a profit — from the fraudulent paintings he was selling, to the phony letters and receipts for provenance,” FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Diego Rodriguez said in a statement. “The only real thing in this situation seems to be the financial losses the victims have incurred for purchasing what they thought were true works of art, whether for investment purposes or personal enjoyment.”

A complaint recently was filed in United States Southern District of New York. According to the filing, other documents and court statements, federal officials said, Spoutz repeatedly peddled art works between 2010 and March 2015 that he falsely claimed other prominent artists had authored — “using forged documents to convince buyers of the authenticity of those works,” Department of Justice officials said in a statement Wednesday.

Investigators allege Spoutz “sold dozens” of counterfeits during his scheme “through various channels, including auction houses and on eBay.” They also say he “was publicly accused of selling forged works of art as early as 2005, after which he began selling them under various aliases, particularly ‘Robert Chad Smith’ and ‘John Goodman.’ ”

To pass off the fakes as authentic, Spoutz is accused of sharing documents — forged receipts, bills of sale, letters from dead attorneys and others — that indicated he, “in the guise of one of his false identities, had inherited or purchased dozens of works by these artists,” according to the DOJ.

Besides purported dealings happening before his birth and forged letters with nonexistent addresses, “Spoutz also consistently used a single distinctive typesetting when forging documents purportedly authored by entirely different art galleries in different decades regarding unrelated transactions,” federal officials said this week.

“In one instance, investigators located the original letter used by Spoutz as a model for one of his forgeries in a collection at a private university, which holds a collection of letters from the individual whose identity Spoutz used to create a false story of inheritance.”

Spoutz was arrested in Los Angeles and faces one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, the DOJ said.

“Thanks to the outstanding investigative work by the FBI, Spoutz’s alleged forgery mill is no longer in business,” Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

Spoutz could not be reached for comment Thursday. An attorney was not listed in court documents.

Spoutz described himself as nephew of acclaimed Macomb Township artist Ian Hornak, whose work has been collected by the Smithsonian Institution, the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Museum of Fine Arts Boston, The Detroit News has reported. Hornak also befriended legends such as de Kooning, Andy Warhol and Robert Motherwell.

Spoutz also said he was head of the Florida-based Ian Hornak Foundation. Officials there did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

In 2013, Spoutz shared thoughts in Detroit News articles on a preliminary valuation of city-bought DIA works and other Detroit collectibles.

According to a post on a website listed as belonging to Spoutz, he “has specialized in the representation of American, European, and Asian art of the 20th century” and “advised private collectors, corporations, foundations and museums on acquisitions.”

In a 2006 review of the book “Fake: Forgery, Lies, & eBay” attributed to Spoutz, he critiqued author Kenneth Walton’s tone as “that of the preppy-murderer Robert Chambers who never seems to take responsibility for his crimes and actually blames the victims for allowing the crimes to be committed. In Walton’s case, the victims are the buyers of his fraudulent art, eBay and the art community at-large. For fans of sociopathic, self-indulgent, unapologetic humor, this book is for you.”

A visitor to the website posted a follow-up on Wednesday, the day Spoutz was arrested: “Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Meanwhile, authorities say others might unknowingly have bought artwork from Spoutz under provenance documents using historical names such as “Betty Parsons Gallery,” “Larry Larkin,” “Henry Hecht,” and “Julius or Jay Wolf.” Anyone who believes they are a victim is asked to call the New York Art Crime Team at (212) 384-1000, attention Special Agent Chris McKeogh or Special Agent Meridith Savona.