An untitled drawing by Jasper Johns that is part of the suit against Fred Dorfman.

Dealer of Stolen Jasper Johns Works May Be Charged with Fraud

According to the Art Newspaper, New York art dealer Fred Dorfman may face racketeering charges after a district court in Manhattan ruled in favor of Vancouver’s Equinox Gallery in its suit against Dorfman, who sold a stolen Jasper Johns painting to the gallery for $800,000 in 2008. Equinox’s complaint accuses Dorfman, who owns Dorfman+ gallery in Chelsea, of selling around thirty-seven discarded or unfinished works that Johns’s assistant, James Meyer, took from the painter’s Connecticut studio from the 1990s to 2012. Meyer first claimed that the works were gifts, but he pleaded guilty in 2014 to stealing the works and was sentenced to eighteen months in prison the next year. According to Judge George B. Daniels, Equinox can seek a RICO claim (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations) against Dorfman.

While Dorfman has described himself as a victim of Meyer’s deception, the Canadian gallery contends that he orchestrated the scheme. “Dorfman embarked on a campaign to convince Meyer to allow him to represent the latter as an independent artist,” Daniels’s decision stated. “What Meyer did not know, however, was that Dorfman never intended to represent him or his interests, but rather sought only to use him to gain access to Jasper Johns’ artwork.” He added that Dorfman planned to legitimize the works by having Meyer sign affidavits saying they were presents, fabricating labels that suggested Johns authorized their sale, and telling prospective clients that the works would be recorded in the artist’s archives.

The judge declared that Dorfman can be sued for triple damages that amount to $2.4 million and attorney fees, and that Equinox can be awarded punitive damages. The decision indicates that the obligation to perform due diligence before the sale or purchase of artworks might not always fall to the buyer, a ruling that goes against the standard. Dorfman maintains his innocence and said in an email to the Art Newspaper that he disputes “each and every allegation that accuses me of any and all wrongdoing.”