Duped in art fraud, NYC man then forged appraisals

A part-time art dealer who unwittingly bought bogus Damien Hirst prints from a California fraudster created his own legal problems by doctoring appraisals as he resold them, authorities and his lawyer said.

Richard Silver, a real estate broker who moonlights in photography and art dealing, pleaded guilty Thursday to misdemeanor forgery and false-filing charges, admitting he'd faked appraisals for what he believed were limited-edition prints of three of the British conceptual-art star's dot-patterned works: "Lysergic Acid Diethylamide (LSD)," ''Opium" and "Valium."

Silver, of New York, had bought several prints in each series online from Irvine, Calif., art scammer Vincent Lopreto, who was arrested in 2008 on charges of creating fraudulent certificates of authenticity for the prints. Lopreto later pleaded guilty and was sentenced to prison.

Silver, who had spent about $40,000 to $45,000, had no idea the prints weren't real Hirsts until after he'd sold them, his lawyer, Vinoo P. Varghese, said Friday.

"He never knowingly sold counterfeit art" and has recovered less than $2,000 of what he paid Lopreto, the attorney said.

Silver sold the pieces to buyers in Great Britain and Canada for a total of about $84,000. Those buyers got appraisals that Silver admitted Thursday he had falsified.

Varghese said Silver had had some works appraised to get shipping insurance and altered the documents to match the rest of the prints so he could "speed up the process and get things shipped out."

"It wasn't meant to defraud anybody," the attorney said.

Silver, 44, also admitted he hadn't reported the profits of the sale on his state taxes. He's expected to be sentenced next week to 60 days in jail and ordered to pay restitution.

Meanwhile, an exhibition featuring more than 300 of Hirst's spot paintings opened Thursday at Gagosian Gallery's 11 locations around the world. A 20-year retrospective of his work is scheduled to open at Tate Modern in London in April.

Hirst, part of a group dubbed the Young British Artists in the 1990s, is known for installations that feature animal carcasses suspended in formaldehyde and for his dotted, pharmaceutical-themed spot paintings, among other themes. Other works include a human skull covered with more than 8,000 diamonds and a series of small medicine and pill cabinets.

He was awarded the Turner Prize, Great Britain's best-known art award, in 1995, though his career hasn't been without controversy. He came under criticism — from no less than fellow British art name David Hockney — for openly using assistants to create most of his canvases. He has said that his assistants do a better painting job than he could and that he gets bored easily.


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