An art forger duped collectors out of more than $200K, selling replica woodcuts as historic masterpieces

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An art forger duped collectors out of more than $200K, selling replica woodcuts as historic masterpieces
A stock image shows an artist working on an art piece, using tools and wood.Kevin Wells/Getty Images
  • An art forger duped art collectors by making woodcuts and touting them as rare historic artworks.
  • Earl Marshawn Washington swindled art collectors out of more than $200,000, selling counterfeit works online.
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An art forger duped art collectors out of more than $200,000 by crafting replica woodcuts and passing them off as historic masterpieces.

A statement released Tuesday by the Department of Justice described the sentencing of Earl Marshawn Washington.

He got a 52-month prison sentence for the deception.

The US Attorney's Office for the Middle District of Pennsylvania said Washington, 61, was sentenced for conspiracy to commit wire and mail fraud.

Prosecutors described a scheme spanning 2013 to 2016 in which he conspired with romantic partners to dupe unsuspecting art buyers in France and the US.

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In a sentencing memo, Washington's defense lawyer described him as a "highly skilled wood engraver, which allowed him to sell wood blocks that appeared to be authentic."

According to prosecutors, Washington worked with his then-wife Zsanett Nagy, advertising the counterfeit woodcuts as being from between the 15th and early 20th centuries.

In one instance, the Attorney's Office said that Washington promised 15 units of "15th.C Reformation/Lutheran wood blocks" to collectors in France.

The buyers transferred nearly $85,000 via PayPal to Nagy, only to learn that the artworks were fake, prosecutors said.

According to an indictment filed last year, Nagy quickly withdrew the money as cash, avoiding any prospect of reversing the payment.

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Another collector in Pennsylvania paid $118,810 to Washington and a romantic partner in exchange for 130 woodblocks, which were also touted as historic and "rare," the court documents said.

Yet again, these claims were false.

Washington was ordered to pay $203,240.90 in restitution to his victims, a judgment filed on March 28 showed.

Nagy was ordered to pay $107,159.25 and sentenced to two years in prison in January 2024. She risks being deported to Hungary, prosecutors said.

In recent years, there have been numerous high-profile instances of art forgeries and fraud, including a case branded by the Canadian Police as the "biggest art fraud in world history."

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A yearslong investigation led to the confiscation of more than 1,000 paintings purported to have been created by the late Indigenous artist Norval Morriseau.

Given the substantial financial stakes involved, art collectors are nervous about falling victim to art fraud, according to a 2023 wealth report by insurance company Chubb.

The report, which surveyed 800 affluent North American art collectors about their assets, found that 87% are concerned about art fraud and the authenticity of their artworks.

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