Queens Foundry Owner Charged in Manhattan Federal Court with $11 Million Scheme to Sell Fake Jasper Johns Sculpture

Preet Bharara, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and Mary Galligan, the Acting Assistant Director in Charge of the New York Field Division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), announced today the unsealing of an indictment charging Brian Ramnarine with attempting to sell a bronze sculpture that he falsely represented to be a genuine work of art by Jasper Johns, the well-known American artist. Ramnarine was arrested at his home in Queens, New York, this morning and will be arraigned in Manhattan federal court before U.S. Magistrate Judge James C. Francis IV this afternoon.

Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said, “As alleged, Brian Ramnarine not only cast a fake sculpture in his foundry shop, but he also cast a wide net in his efforts to pawn it off on the art world as a multi-million-dollar masterpiece. Notwithstanding the forged documents and tales of friendship with the great artist Jasper Johns that he used to prove the sculpture’s provenance, he got caught and will now be forced to answer for his alleged fraud.”

FBI Acting Assistant Director in Charge Mary Galligan said, “While the defendant had possession of the mold for ‘Flag,’ he had no authority to make the bronze casting he attempted to sell as a legitimate Jasper Johns work of art. He crafted a convincing sculpture, and he crafted a litany of lies and deceptions to peddle it.”

The following allegations are based on the indictment unsealed today in Manhattan federal court:

In 1960, Johns created a sculpture that he titled “Flag.” Although Johns gave the work to another artist, he retained a mold (the “’Flag’ mold”). In or about 1990, Johns provided the “Flag” mold to Brian Ramnarine, who owned a Queens, New York foundry and had a reputation for being highly skilled in the casting of bronze sculptures. Johns instructed Ramnarine to use the “Flag” mold to make a wax cast. Ramnarine completed the wax cast and gave it to Johns, but he never returned to Johns the “Flag” mold from which the wax cast was made.

Twenty years later, in spring 2010, Ramnarine began representing to various members of the art world that he owned a bronze sculpture, titled “Flag,” that was an authorized Jasper Johns work of art created in 1989 (the “purported 1989 bronze sculpture”). In an effort to gauge interest in the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, he showed it to a representative of an auction house who specialized in the sale of rare art and to an art dealer. Around the same time, Ramnarine also attempted to sell the purported 1989 bronze sculpture directly to an art collector. At Ramnarine’s direction, several art brokers were in frequent contact with the art collector and with the art collector’s representative, regarding the possible sale of what was represented to be a genuine and authorized Jasper Johns work of art. Through an art broker to whom Ramnarine had shown the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, Ramnarine informed the art collector’s representative that he would sell it for approximately $11 million.

After the art collector expressed doubts about the authenticity of the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, Ramnarine provided false and fraudulent documents and information in an effort to deceive the art collector into believing that the artwork was genuine. For example, Ramnarine stated that the purported 1989 bronze sculpture was a gift from Johns. To support that assertion, Ramnarine provided an art broker with a letter dated August 23, 1989, purportedly from Johns, along with other documents that falsely and fraudulently reflected that the purported 1989 bronze sculpture was a genuine Johns work of art and that it was owned by Ramnarine.

In May 2010, Ramnarine and others met with the art collector’s representative at an art storage facility in Manhattan. During this meeting, Ramnarine showed the art collector’s representative the purported 1989 bronze sculpture. Ramnarine also provided additional documents that purported to show the sculpture’s authenticity and provenance. However, the purported 1989 bronze sculpture was a fake. Johns never authorized its production nor did he transfer ownership to Ramnarine. Instead, in or about 1990, against Johns’ earlier instructions and without authorization, Ramnarine used the original “Flag” mold provided by Johns to make the purported 1989 bronze sculpture, dated it 1989, and forged Johns’ signature on the back of the sculpture. Ramnarine also falsely stated that he could arrange for a meeting between Johns and the art collector who was interested in purchasing the purported 1989 bronze sculpture. However, Ramnarine did not have an ongoing relationship with Johns and had no intention or ability to arrange for any such meeting.

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Ramnarine, 58, of Queens, New York, is charged with one count of wire fraud, which carries a maximum potential penalty of 20 years in prison. U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl is assigned to the case. The first pretrial conference is scheduled for November 20, 2012, at 10:30 a.m.

The charges contained in the indictment are merely accusations, and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.