The Queens foundry owner caught attempting to sell a counterfeit Jasper Johns sculpture for $11 million in 2012 has plead guilty.
Brian Ramnarine, 58, owner of the Empire Bronze Art Foundry in Long Island City, was arrested in November 2012 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.”
On Monday, the fifth day of his jury trial in Manhattan Federal Court, Ramnarine plead guilty for three counts of wire fraud.
“Brian Ramnarine is a serial fraudster who attempted to peddle not one but multiple fake sculptures in three separate fraud schemes – the last two of which occurred after he had already been arrested and was facing charges for the first,” said Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. “Ramnarine now stands convicted and, with his admission of guilt, will pay for his fraud.”
For his first count of wire fraud, evidence showed that in 1990 Johns gave the mold to Ramnarine and asked that he create a wax cast of the piece. Ramnarine made the cast and gave it to Johns, but did not return the first “Flag” mold.
Ramnarine allegedly told several members of the art world in 2010 that he owned the authentic work and even displayed the counterfeit “Flag” at an auction house that specialized in rare art. He then attempted to sell the sculpture for $11 million to several art collectors.
When one collector expressed doubts regarding the authenticity of the sculpture, Ramnarine provided fraudulent documents to show 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.
In May of 2010, it was discovered that Johns never authorized the production of a mock sculpture nor did he transfer ownership to Ramnarine. He even forged Johns’ signature on the back of the piece.
Ramnarine is also pleading guilty to two additional counts of wire fraud for his sales of bronze sculptures he falsely represented to be works from artists Robert Indiana and Saint Clair Cermin. The two schemes took place while Ramnarine was out on bail.
If convicted, Ramnarine faces a total of 80 years in jail, 20 years for the first count of wire fraud, and 30 years each for the other two counts.
Ramnarine’s sentencing is scheduled for May 30.
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