A New York man has been arrested after allegedly selling nearly $2 million-worth of fake fine art to collectors and then threatening the buyers in colorful emails to keep them from having the paintings' authenticity tested or to pressure them into lending him money.
John Re, from East Hampton, was arrested in mid-July and accused in a criminal complaint of selling dozens of fake works of art supposedly by the famous abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock to a handful of collectors, as The New York Post reported today.
The FBI agent who filed the complaint alleged that Re concocted a story about a trove of Pollock paintings that had been discovered in the basement of an East Hampton home. He then sold the paintings online, describing them as "real" or "authentic," the complaint says.
One of the collectors, identified only as Collector-2, had 45 of the paintings tested and found that following a "'thorough investigation, which included in person examinations of all 45 paintings by specialists and conservators, extensive provenance and art historical research, and physical examination, and selective forensic testing of the materials,'… none of the 45 purported Pollock paintings were by Jackson Pollock," the FBI agent said. The complaint says those sold to the other collectors were also "fakes."
There was purportedly no evidence to support Re's found-in-a-basement story and the works were "not stylistically consistent with examples of authentic Pollock paintings."
In one case, the artwork's paint was "too fresh to have been applied by Jackson Pollock, who died on August 11, 1956," the complaint says.
The FBI alleges Re also sent a series of intimidating emails to some of the buyers.
"What the hell were you thinking, or were you letting someone else do your thinking for you[?]" Re allegedly wrote in an email to one buyer after learning the collector had submitted several paintings to experts at IFAR, the International Foundation for Art Research.
The FBI says Re attempted to pressure another buyer into lending him money and then exploded when the buyer refused. Later, the FBI says Re attempted to intimidate the buyer and demanded that he return two of the purported Pollocks.
"[I] would never threatened anybody unless I'm gonna follow through. I grew up in Brooklyn, ok?" Re allegedly told the buyer in a recorded phone call. "When I tell you to do something, you don't… be quiet. You don't question me. You don't talk over me. You don't disrespect me. You just do it… And if you got to call me back and ask one more time, your mother's going to start wondering why you stopped visiting her."
The complaint says the FBI interviewed Re in May and Re initially claimed he only said the artwork was "attributed" to Pollock, meaning there was always doubt about its provenance. But the FBI agent alleged that Re was then shown the online listings for the paintings, which identified them as "real" or "authentic" Pollocks, and Re admitted he had represented them as "authentic."
"Re said he would 'take the weight' for anything he has done wrong but that he did not think he had done anything wrong," the complaint said.
Re has not filed a plea in the case and his attorney, Annalisa Miron, declined to comment for this report.