Mich. art dealer gets over 3 years in prison for fraud

Larry Neumeister
Associated Press

New York — A Michigan art dealer who claimed that dozens of forged art works he sold were by renowned American artists such as Willem De Kooning, Franz Kline and Joan Mitchell was sentenced to over three years in prison Thursday.

U.S. District Judge Lewis Kaplan ordered Eric Spoutz, 33, to spend three years and five months in prison for crimes that occurred since at least 2006. He also ordered the Mount Clemens resident to forfeit $1.4 million and pay $154,100 in restitution.

Calling the crimes “very serious,” the judge said the sentence was necessary to deter others from committing similar acts.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Andrew Adams said the market for forgeries was “staggering” and others needed to know there is a price to pay for participating.

Adams decried “the way people go about pushing this junk.” Prosecutors say Spoutz used forged receipts, bills of sale and letters from deceased attorneys and other individuals to convince buyers that he had inherited or bought dozens of works by the artists and that they were authentic.

Prosecutors said Spoutz sold fraudulent works of art in various ways, including through auction houses and on eBay. Along the way, he left clues of the fraud by using a single distinctive typesetting when forging documents supposedly created by different art galleries in different decades, the government said.

Urging a meaningful prison term, Adams said Spoutz had not made a onetime slip-up.

“This was a career that was founded on fraud,” Adams said, adding that Spoutz did not stop selling fake art until a year after the FBI approached him.

Spoutz apologized before the sentence was announced while his lawyer argued that a troubled background led him toward crime.

In a release, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Spoutz “used the full palette of deception to complete his decade-long work of fraud, swindling art collectors out of more than a million dollars.”