(STL.News) – Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and William F. Sweeney Jr., the Assistant Director-in-Charge of the New York Office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”), announced today the unsealing of a Complaint in Manhattan federal court charging INIGO PHILBRICK, an art dealer specializing in post-war and contemporary fine art, with galleries in London, United Kingdom, and Miami, Florida, with engaging in a multi-year scheme to defraud various individuals and entities in order to finance his art business. In total, PHILBRICK allegedly fraudulently obtained more than $20 million as a result of the scheme.
Federal law enforcement agents took PHILBRICK into custody yesterday in Vanuatu, after Vanuatu authorities expelled PHILBRICK from Vanuatu at the request of the U.S. Embassy in Papua New Guinea in light of the charges in the Complaint. PHILBRICK was then transported to Guam, where he is expected to be presented in federal court on June 15, 2020.
U.S. Attorney Geoffrey S. Berman said: “As alleged, Inigo Philbrick was a serial swindler who misled art collectors, investors, and lenders out of more than $20 million. You can’t sell more than 100 percent ownership in a single piece of art, which Philbrick allegedly did, among other scams. When his schemes began to unravel, Philbrick allegedly fled the country. Now he is in U.S. custody and facing justice.”
FBI Assistant Director William F. Sweeney Jr. said: “Mr. Philbrick allegedly sought out high-dollar art investors, sold pieces he didn’t own, and played games with millions of dollars in other people’s money. The game ended when investors began wondering where their money went. Hats off to the FBI NY Joint Major Theft Task Force/Art Crime Team who worked diligently to track down Mr. Philbrick and bring him back to the U.S., where, if convicted, he might have to trade in his jet-set life for a drab federal prison cell.”
According to the allegations in the Complaint unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:
From approximately 2016 through 2019, to finance his art business, PHILBRICK engaged in a scheme to defraud multiple individuals and entities in the art market located in the New York metropolitan area and abroad. PHILBRICK made material misrepresentations and omissions to art collectors, investors, and lenders to access valuable art and obtain sales proceeds, funding, and loans (the “Fraud Scheme”). PHILBRICK knowingly misrepresented the ownership of certain artworks, for example, by selling a total of more than 100 percent ownership in an artwork to multiple individuals and entities without their knowledge; and by selling artworks and/or using artworks as collateral on loans without the knowledge of co-owners, and without disclosing the ownership interests of third parties to buyers and lenders. PHILBRICK furnished fraudulent contracts and records to investors to artificially inflate the artworks’ value and conceal his scheme, including a contract that listed a stolen identity as the seller.
PHILBRICK obtained millions of dollars in loans and sale proceeds in connection with the Fraud Scheme. Artworks about which PHILBRICK made these fraudulent misrepresentations in furtherance of the Fraud Scheme include, among others, a 1982 painting by the artist Jean-Michel Basquiat titled “Humidity,” a 2010 untitled painting by the artist Christopher Wool, and an untitled 2012 painting by the artist Rudolf Stingel depicting the artist Pablo Picasso.
By in or about the fall of 2019, PHILBRICK’s Fraud Scheme began to come to light as various investors and lenders learned about the fraudulent records PHILBRICK had provided and the material misrepresentations and omissions he had made. By in or about mid-October, a lender officially notified PHILBRICK that he was in default of approximately a $14 million loan, and by November 2019, various investors had filed civil lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions regarding PHILBRICK’s Fraud Scheme in connection with various artworks. At around the same time, PHILBRICK’s art galleries in Miami and London closed, and PHILBRICK stopped responding to legal process. Flight records show that PHILBRICK departed the United States shortly before public reporting began about the lawsuits. Based on information provided by Vanuatu, PHILBRICK has been residing in Vanuatu since in or about late October 2019.