Gallery Accused Of Selling Fake Works Of Art Over The Internet

Attorney General Spitzer today announced that he is suing an Orange County art gallery and auction house for selling fake works of art over the Internet.

The suit alleges that The Antique & Design Center, located at 262 Windsor Highway, New Windsor, in Orange County and known on the e-Bay Internet auction site as "sambuca914," forged the signatures of well-known American and European artists on numerous paintings it sold during 1999.

"Although the Internet has been a great force for good in areas including business, information, and communication, it can also be misused," said Spitzer.

"The types of consumer and business scams that we used to see off line, have now moved on line. So our best advice to consumers in this new Internet age is probably the oldest: let the buyer beware and if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is."

The Attorney General's investigation was sparked by a consumer complaint last year. Spitzer's Internet Bureau worked with leading art experts in New York and across the nation in identifying the counterfeit works that contained forged signatures of prominent artists.

The 23 works in question were sold at prices ranging from $700 to over $10,000. All told, the victims, who live all over the country, lost $75,000. It's believed that many other consumers purchased the relatively worthless forgeries from the gallery, whether at its New Windsor location or over its eBay site. (See attached list of victims willing to speak to the media)

The suit alleges that among the forgeries are works that the Antique & Design Center falsely attributed to such well-known artists as the American water colorist Charles Burchfield; the German-born artist Oscar Bluemener; the American landscape artist Robert Vonnoh; the French landscape artist Henri-Joseph Harpignies; and the Social Realist and Ashcan school artists Rafael Soyer and George Luks.

"The Internet has made a vast range of artwork and other collectibles readily available to the mass public," said Spitzer. "However, consumers must be particularly careful when purchasing art over the Net, because there is little opportunity to inspect the goods for signs of fraud, and as we see, some unscrupulous art sellers are taking advantage of this fact.

"My office will continue to be vigilant in taking action against any company, on or off-line, found to be violating New York state laws." 

The Antique & Design Center has also done business under the name "The Antique Connection." Its eBay user site is registered to Jill Schuster, who is also known as Jill McEwen, and the suit alleges that the company's officers are Ms. Schuster and Jerry Schuster.

According to the suit, the Antique & Design Center sold certain paintings even after being explicitly told that the paintings were fakes. In fact, one painting has the name of someone taking a "learning to paint" class on the back.

Sometimes, after the company gave consumers refunds for phony works, it would then resell the very same works to other unsuspecting buyers. The suit alleges that the company sold these paintings with clear markings of authenticity, and without disclaimers of any sort.

"We commend Attorney General Spitzer on the successful investigation of this Internet forgery case. We are pleased that six members of the Art Dealers Association of America (ADAA) were among the experts that expressed their opinions as to the authenticity of the artwork," noted ADAA president Richard Gray.

"Collectors can protect themselves from possible forgeries by working with reputable dealers. Many dealers can authenticate works in their areas of specialization or make a referral to an appropriate expert."

The suit, filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, alleges false advertising, deceptive consumer practices, and violations of the New York Arts and Cultural Affairs Law.

Under New York law, when an art seller or auction house uses terms that attribute a work or signature to a specific artist, that representation automatically becomes part of the transaction -- creating a warranty that the painting is authentic.

"My office will not allow art sellers such as The Antique & Design Center to tarnish New York's image as a vibrant center for art and culture, or to tarnish the image of the numerous responsible art galleries and auction houses operating in this State." said Spitzer. "Consumers rely on sellers' expertise and honesty in evaluating their art purchases, and when they sell relatively worthless pieces using the names of master artists, both the buyers and the art world as a whole are harmed."

Through the lawsuit, the Attorney General seeks a permanent injunction to stop the company from continuing its illegal activities, restitution to consumers both identified and as yet unidentified, the posting of a $150,000 bond, and civil penalties of up to $500 per violation, as allowed by state law.

Consumers who suspect they may have bought forgeries from the Antique & Design Center should contact the Assistant Attorney General Ken Dreifach Internet Bureau at 212-416-8456.

The case is being handled by A.A.G. Dreifach of Spitzer's Internet Bureau, under the direction of the Internet Bureau Chief Caitlin Halligan.

More information about Internet-related topics and online business tips can be found on Attorney General Spitzer's world wide website: