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A Lynn man and Andy Warhol are at the center of a federal art fraud case

Andy Warhol in Rome in an undated photo. (Catmuuu/Wikimedia Commons)

BOSTON — A Lynn man was arrested and charged Wednesday with the theft and attempt to sell two fake Andy Warhol paintings on eBay, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Brian R. Walshe, 43, faces one count of wire fraud. He is being held pending a probable cause hearing scheduled for today in U.S District Court.

Police said in 2016, the first victim found two Warhol paintings for sale on eBay called “Shadows,” from a series of abstract canvas paintings the pop artist drew in the 1970s.

The original price for the paintings was $100,000. The eBay seller included in the advertisement photographs of the paintings, a picture of an invoice from Fleishman Fine Art for the two Warhol Shadow paintings with Warhol Foundation numbers, and a purchase price of $240,000, according to the complaint.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office alleged the first victim believed the paintings were authentic and arranged with Walshe to purchase the artwork for $80,000.

The buyer’s assistant flew to Boston, and met Walshe to retrieve the paintings, and paid him by cashiers check, authorities said.

Bank records indicate the check was deposited into Walshe’s account. The buyer later discovered the paintings did not have the Warhol Foundation authentication stamps and the canvasses looked new, the complaint said. When the victim compared the paintings to the photographs from the eBay listing, they did not match. The buyer concluded the paintings he purchased from Walshe were not authentic. The buyer then repeatedly attempted to contact Walshe, who made excuses for the delay in refunding the buyer’s money. Eventually, Walshe refunded the first victim $30,000, but refused to refund the rest.  

In 2007, a witness, an employee of Fleishman Fine Art, purchased the paintings from Jablonka Gallery in Germany for a client. The true owner of the paintings, who authorities called a second victim, was a South Korean national who Walshe has known since 1994.

Court documents said that victim purchased several pieces of art from the gallery employee. Walshe was present when the victim first purchased a Warhol painting. Following the sale, the victim purchased the two Shadow paintings from the gallery employee, who had since left the gallery but was still dealing in fine art, the complaint said.

While visiting the victim in South Korea, Walshe told him he could sell some of the art for a “good price.” The victim agreed, and Walshe took the two Shadow paintings, and other fine art pieces.

It is alleged that after Walshe took the items, but the second victim did not hear from Walshe and was unable to contact him. In 2011, Walshe attempted to consign the Warhol paintings to a gallery in New York City, at which time he also had other art belonging to the victim, the complaint said. The gallery declined to accept the paintings because Walshe lacked a bill of sale.

It is alleged Walshe took the art from the second victim, and falsely offered the authentic Warhol paintings for sale on eBay, but delivered fake paintings to the buyer.

If convicted, Walshe faces up to 20 years in prison.

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