Co-owner of missing $1.3 million painting charged with fraud by federal authorities in NY

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Co-owner of missing painting charged with fraud

NEW YORK — A con man carried out an “inartful fraud” when he fooled an art collector into thinking they were partners in the $1.1 million purchase of a missing painting but was actually ripping the investor off, a federal prosecutor said Thursday.

Thomas Doyle, 54, was arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and wire fraud in the dealings over a century-and-a-half-old painting by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot entitled “Portrait of a Girl.”

Doyle took advantage of an investor’s enthusiasm for the painting by arranging in June for the investor to pay $880,000 for an 80 percent ownership share of a painting that was worth $500,000 to $700,000, U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said.

“Doyle’s alleged efforts turned out to be an inartful fraud,” Bharara said.

If Doyle decorates walls with fine art in the future, the walls “may be the inside of a prison cell,” said Janice K. Fedarcyk, head of New York’s FBI office.

A criminal complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan said Doyle persuaded an investor in Japan to pay him the $880,000 for the circa 1857 painting, which he was supposed to then buy for $1.1 million. Authorities said Doyle had already bought the painting for $775,000 and pocketed an extra $105,000 by charging the investor too much. The investor’s identity was not released in court papers.

The FBI began investigating after Doyle’s girlfriend, Kristyn Trudgeon, filed a lawsuit alleging that she had been a victim of fraud in the disappearance of the painting when a man entrusted with helping to sell it claimed he lost the art in New York City in July when he was intoxicated. The lawsuit, which alleged she was a part owner of the masterpiece, has since been withdrawn.

The FBI said in court papers that Doyle misrepresented the sale price of the painting to the co-purchaser in Japan and to the operator of an art gallery in Vancouver, Canada, who acted as the co-purchaser’s broker.

Doyle’s lawyer, Kevin Keating, portrayed his client as a victim as he spoke to reporters before Doyle made an initial appearance in federal court.

“This appears to be a squeeze play designed to get at the location of the painting. The problem is they’re going after the wrong guy. He doesn’t have it. He doesn’t know where it is,” Keating said.

After a prosecutor asked that Doyle be held without bail during Doyle’s initial court appearance, Keating agreed that his client could remain detained at least until he offers a bail package sometime next week. Trudgeon watched the proceeding and left court immediately afterward.

Keating said Doyle has lived in Manhattan for the last nine months, working as a salesman at a travel agency.

Associated Press writer Jennifer Peltz contributed to this story.

(This version CORRECTS to show that alleged victim has not been publicly identified and adds material from initial court appearance.)

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