FBI: Sotheby’s defrauded of $5M in auction scheme

Jim Mustian
Associated Press

New York – A fine art consultant in New York and an interior designer in Florida stole an elderly woman’s identity and used it to bid millions of dollars on famous paintings and defraud the renowned Sotheby’s auction house, federal prosecutors allege in court filings.

Joakim von Ditmar and Antonio DiMarco are accused of using the identity of a wealthy, 80-year-old retiree to place winning bids on two paintings at a Sotheby’s contemporary art auction in the fall of 2017.

They snagged an untitled Mark Rothko for $6.4 million and “No. 12” by Ad Reinhardt for $1.16 million.

The pair, though, were quickly found out and never took possession of the art, authorities said. Sotheby’s became suspicious after a representative called the retiree and she disavowed any knowledge of the sales, a spokeswoman for the auction house said.

She didn’t even collect art, she later told investigators.

“Our discussions with the purchasers raised significant suspicion and concern for the elderly client they purported to represent and we felt it was necessary to contact the FBI,” Sotheby’s said in an emailed statement.

Von Ditmar, an art consultant and fashion designer, and DiMarco, an interior designer from Hallandale, Florida, are charged with wire fraud conspiracy and aggravated identity theft.

Von Ditmar did not respond to an email seeking comment. His defense attorney, Mark Gombiner, declined to comment.

DiMarco was taken into custody last week on theft and money laundering charges in a separate case involving the same Florida woman and work he was supposed to be doing on her home.

Sotheby’s initially took a $5 million loss on the auction of the two paintings because it was contractually obligated to pay the seller, according to prosecutors, but the Manhattan auction house said it recovered much of that money after reselling the Rothko.

It plans to reoffer the Reinhardt piece for sale.

The FBI said in court papers that DiMarco gave Sotheby’s a letter– purportedly signed by the retiree– authorizing DiMarco to bid on her behalf.

The woman later told the FBI that DiMarco showed her a letter that he claimed would merely provide him access to the auction, and that she signed it without reading it.

The FBI said the suspects tried at least two other times to buy works of art using the retiree’s identity.