Eric Spoutz

Art Dealer Sentenced to More Than Three Years in Prison for Selling Forged Modern Art

The US attorney’s office announced on February 16 that the Michigan-based art dealer Eric Spoutz has been sentenced to forty-one months in prison, and three years supervised release, for wire-fraud charges related to his scheme to sell forged artworks purportedly by Modern artists, reports Dan Duray in the Art Newspaper. Spoutz was also ordered to forfeit the $1.45 million of “ill-gotten gains” he made off the sales and to pay $154,100 in restitution.

Preet Bharara, the US attorney for the Southern District of New York, who also previously went after the dealer at the heart of the Knoedler forgery ring, said in a statement: “Eric Spoutz used false and fictitious provenance to peddle his forged artwork to unsuspecting buyers, claiming they were masterpieces from Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline, and Joan Mitchell . . . Our office has a long history of investigating—and prosecuting—those who try to contaminate the art world with fraudulent artwork. Thanks to the outstanding investigative work by the FBI, Spoutz’s alleged forgery mill is no longer in business.”

Between 2003 and 2015, Spoutz used a complicated series of letters from law firms and galleries––along with sales receipts and, in once case, a letter that bequeathed nonexistent works to Dartmouth College––to run his business. In total, he stole at least $1,450,000 from his victims. Among the museum collections Spoutz claims to have placed or given works to are the Smithsonian American Art Museum; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Detroit Institute of Arts. He sold works at auction houses, as well as to an online auction site, under a variety of aliases, including John Goodman, James Sinclair, and Robert Chad Smith.

“In your certified affidavit you state that the artworks came from your surrogate uncle Chad Smith,” one victim writes in an e-mail included in the legal complaint. “Finding Chad Smith anywhere is almost impossible and made worse by the fact that the drummer for the Black Eyed Peas is named Chad Smith and he takes up the first twenty pages of Google . . . If you would be so kind as to either call me, answer my calls, or email to me a way that I can establish who your uncle was I would greatly appreciate it.”

According to the Detroit Free Press, Sproutz apologized before his sentence was announced, and his lawyer argued that a troubled past led him to a life of crime.