UPDATE:Portrait of a Swindler as Young Art Felon

November 24, 2011

This is an update of an article originally published on July 13, 2011 in "Street Sweeper."

Sometimes it seems as if there's no such thing as a good con outside of Wall Street, what with all the recent, lurid headlines about brokerage firms, hedge funds, investment advisors, insider trading, Ponzi schemes, and the likes of Raj and Bernie. However, good news! There are more than enough scamsters to go around. Consider this recent fraud in the high fallutin' world of fine art.

La Victime

According to federal prosecutors, between May and August of 2010, Thomas Doyle, 53, of New York, New York, found himself a well-heeled pigeon, who we'll simply call La Victime. Doyle called his mark and urged that the two purchase for $1,100,000 Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot's "Portrait of a Girl" from a third party for $1,100,000. As Doyle laid it out, he would pay $220,000 and La Victime would pay $880,000, for which the latter would retain an 80% ownership in the Corot painting.

And the tug on this baited line was Doyle's promise that there was a buyer lined up who was prepared to buy the painting for a tidy profit. Voila!

Chiaroscuro

Now, in fairness to Doyle, there was a built-in "tidy profit" to this transaction. You see, Doyle had previously negotiated the purchase of the Corot for $775,000, or about $105,000 less than what La Victime was being pressed to invest in the artwork - and about $325,000 less than what Doyle told La Victime was the price that he had paid for the painting. But what are such details among true art lovers?

In June 2010, with the Corot in hand and La Victime's cash in his bank account, Doyle announced that he had located a buyer willing to pay $1,700,000. That's not a bad profit, he likely told La Victime. In fact, the Corot was estimated to sell at auction for no more than $500,000 and$700,000.

Too Much Absinthe?

From here things get a bit murky - suggesting that Doyle may not have fully thought everything out. The Corot gets stored by some co-conspirator in a Manhattan storage facility, only to later get removed by that pal - supposedly without authorization. Then, according to press reports, the painting was taken to a seller, but there was no sale, then the courier took the Corot to a bar, but the courier got drunk, and a doorman found the painting in some bushes on Fifth Avenue, and ,well, hey, you know how it goes, right? This is a case for Inspector Clouseau.

Non, je ne regrette rien?

On July 11, 2011, Thomas Doyle pled guilty to one count of wire fraud and is scheduled to be sentenced in October 2011, faces a maximum:

  • sentence of 20 years in prison,
  • term of supervised release of three years, and
  • fine of $250,000, or twice the gross gain or loss from the offense.

Doyle also admitted to forfeiture allegations requiring him to forfeit $880,000, Doyle's interest in the Corot Painting, and one 1993 Ferrari Mondial T Cabriolet.

UPDATE

On November 22, 2011, Doyle, 54, was sentenced in federal court in Manhattan, NY to six years in prison man and three years of supervised release,. Further, Doyle was ordered  to:

  • pay an $880,000 money judgment;
  • pay to the victim $880,000 in restitution;
  • forfeit the Ferrari and his interest in the Corot Painting, both of which are currently in the FBI's possession.