Forger Gets Four Years In Jail For Passing His Woodblock Prints Off As 15th-Cntury Originals


play

Earl Marshawn Washington’s replicas of centuries-old European woodcuts were so exquisite people believed they really were from the heyday of the art form, and he sold them as precious examples of 15th-century masterpieces.

But rather than land him in a museum, the replicas have carved him a four-year prison sentence for art forgery, Justice Department officials announced Tuesday.

The 61-year-old duped French and American collectors out of hundreds of thousands of dollars for the pieces over the past decade, according to a federal indictment filed in the Middle District of Pennsylvania.

Washington, who U.S. prosecutors say is a resident of Honolulu, Key West, Las Vegas “and other places,” was sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and mail fraud. He was also ordered to pay restitution to victims in the total amount of $203,240.90 and serve a three-year term of supervised release after his imprisonment. 

The case was investigated by the FBI’s Art Crimes Unit, established in 2004 to investigate stolen artworks, according to the FBI’s website. The unit also investigates forgeries.

Lori J. Ulrich, a federal public defender representing Washington, did not respond to requests for comment, but in court filings she repeatedly called Washington “complicated” and “his own worst enemy.”

Xylography from the ‘River Seine’?

The art form Washington practiced and sold with the help of Zsanett Nagy, 32, his wife at the time, is formally called xylography but better known as woodcutting − the art of carving designs onto wooden blocks that are then directly printed by dipping those blocks in ink and stamping them onto another material. Nagy was sentenced to two years in prison January 2024 and ordered to pay $107,159.25 in restitution, according to the U.S. attorney’s office. The Hungarian national also could face deportation.

It sprung up around the world, and notably in 14th-century Germany, where it became associated with famous German Renaissance artists such as Hans Holbein and Albrecht Dürer, whose works Washington claimed to be selling, according to court filings. 

Under the alias “River Seine,” the iconic waterway that runs through Paris, Washington sold the pieces on eBay to buyers in France and other pieces made by his great-grandfather to collectors in Pennsylvania, according to federal court documents.

Washington is depicted in prosecutors’ filings as a skilled artist. Examples of his work shown in court filings can still be found at the online art market Invaluable, though the prints appear to be selling for significantly less than the $1,250 “rare” blocks that were sold over the past decade.

One collector − a physician in York, Pennsylvania, and a collector of antique surgical instruments who bought woodcuts depicting anatomical models − bought 130 woodblocks from Washington for $118,810, court records said.

To another − a metallurgist in Hummelstown, Pennsylvania − he sold works related to the steel industry purportedly done in 1934 by “E.M. Washington,” his great-grandfather, court documents said. That collector sent money to the same account that would be used to buy art supplies sent to Washington at an address in New Orleans, the indictment says.

The French collectors spent $84,350.91 on Washington’s 15th- and 16th-century counterfeits, prosecutors said. The indictment says the buyers then sold pieces to a German collector who planned to display them in a museum.

In court filings, Ulrich, Washington’s lawyer, says the collectors participated in the scheme to the extent that original works would have been worth substantially more.

Ulrich wrote that one of the French victims would call Washington and “say to him, ‘Would you happen to have … , ” suggesting Washington should “carve such a block.” 

The FBI Art Crimes unit

The case was investigated by the Philadelphia Division of the FBI’s Art Crime unit, with assistance of other FBI agents, and law enforcement officials in Germany and France, including the French National Gendarmerie.

In a statement about the Art Crime unit and Washington’s fraud, the FBI said buyers should have a “complete understanding” of where the item they plan to buy is from. 

“Conducting due diligence research is an important step in ensuring that what an individual is buying is what is being represented in the sale,” said spokesman Eugene ‘Luke’ Riley. “Buyers who fail to have a full understanding of what they are purchasing can fall prey to these types of fraud schemes.”

Other recent investigations from the art crime unit include recovering artifacts stolen from Okinawa, Japan, at the end of World War II, according to the FBI’s website, returning a 16th-century manuscript to Peru, and identifying another fraudster in Massachusetts who sold counterfeit Andy Warhol paintings, also on eBay.



Source link

About The Author

Scroll to Top