Queens man tries to pawn off $11 million counterfeit sculpture


| aaltman@queenscourier.com |

PHOTO COURTESY OF MANHATTAN U.S. ATTORNEYS OFFICE
PHOTO COURTESY OF MANHATTAN U.S. ATTORNEYS OFFICE

A Queens foundry owner was caught attempting to pass off a counterfeit sculpture as the real deal — for an $11 million profit.

Brian Ramnarine, 58, owner of the Empire Bronze Art Foundry in Long Island City, was arrested for attempting to sell “1989 Bronze Flag” — a sculpture that he falsely advertised as a genuine work by American artist Jasper Johns, originally titled “Flag.”

“While the defendant had possession of the mold for ‘Flag,’ he had no authority to make the bronze casting he attempted to sell as a legitimate Jasper Johns work of art,” said FBI acting assistant director in charge Mary Galligan. “He crafted a convincing sculpture, and he crafted a litany of lies and deceptions to peddle it.”

In 1960, Johns made a wax cast of the original sculpture, called “Flag.” In the 1990s, Johns gave the mold to Ramnarine — who was regarded as highly skilled in casting bronze sculptures — and asked that he create another cast of the piece. Ramnarine made the wax cast and gave it to Johns, but did not return the first “Flag” mold.

During the spring of 2010, Ramnarine allegedly told several members of the art world that he owned the authentic work and even displayed the faux “Flag” at an auction house that specialized in rare art. The crafty crook attempted to sell the sculpture to several art collectors, pricing the wax wannabe at $11 million.

When one collector expressed doubts regarding the authenticity of the sculpture, Ramnarine provided fraudulent documents to convince the skeptical buyer that the work was genuine. Ramnarine allegedly even provided a letter dated August 23, 1989, purportedly from Johns, stating that the sculpture was a gift from the artist himself. Prosecutors said Ramnarine even etched a fake Johns insignia on the work.

In May of 2010, it was discovered that Johns never authorized the production of a mock sculpture nor did he transfer ownership to Ramnarine.

Ramnarine was charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison.