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A California Man Pleads Guilty To Selling Dozens Of Fake Basquiat Paintings

Three people shown in silhouette look at a large, abstract painting of what appears to be a skeleton holding its arms up. A dog is next to the skeleton. The painting uses red, orange, green, brown, black, white, blue, brown and yellow colors.
Visitors stand among paintings by artist Jean-Michel Basquiat which are part of an exhibition of 150 works of art by Basquiat, at Musee d'Art Moderne in Paris, France.
(Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Getty Images Europe)
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A former auctioneer has pleaded guilty to selling fake Jean Michel-Basquiat paintings, the Department of Justice said Tuesday.

Michael Barzman, 45, of North Hollywood, California, was charged with making false statements to the FBI about the origin of the paintings, which were taken from the Orlando Museum of Art last year.

In 2012, Barzman and a second man, known as "J.F.," began making the counterfeit artworks and selling them on eBay and through Barzman's auction business.

"[Barzman] and J.F. agreed to split the money that they made from selling the Fraudulent Paintings," the DOJ said. "J.F. and [Barzman] created approximately 20-30 artworks by using various art materials to create colorful images on cardboard."

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Barzman further admitted that he lied about where the paintings came from, and said he found them in a well-known screenwriter's storage unit, the DOJ said.

The fake artwork Barzman sold passed through the art industry and made its way to an exhibit in the Orlando Museum of Art.

"Most of the featured works had, in fact, been created by [Barzman] and J.F.," Barzman said in his plea agreement.

The FBI seized 25 of the counterfeit pieces from the museum in June 2022, though in interviews in August and October 2022, Barzman said he did not make the paintings.

Making false statements to a government agency carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison.

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