Renton man pleads guilty to selling fake Chihuly artwork

A 35-year-old Renton man pleaded guilty Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle to wire fraud in connection with his scheme to advertise and sell fake Chihuly artwork.

Michael Little admits he bought various pieces of generic glasswork and artwork over the internet and falsely claimed to buyers that it was authentic Dale Chihuly work, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.

Little made at least $40,000 selling the fakes.  Little will be sentenced by U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik on Oct. 4.

According to records in the case, between 2011 and April 2013, Little offered for sale or sold various pieces of glass art and paintings that he represented were the original work of Dale Chihuly, according to the press release. Little marketed the works on eBay.

The artworks bore a signature that appeared to be Chihuly’s and Little provided paperwork that he said authenticated the pieces as the work of Dale Chihuly.  However, an expert in Chihuly’s work examined the pieces at the request of a number of the purchasers and determined they were fakes. The papers that were supposed to authenticate the works were forged, according to the press release.

Little told stories to potential buyers about how he had acquired the Chihuly work, including that his family had purchased the pieces after winning the Lotto.

Wire fraud is punishable by up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

The case was investigated by Seattle-Tacoma Border Enforcement Security Task Force (BEST Seattle), led by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).  BEST Seattle is comprised of members from HSI; U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Office of Field Operations; the U.S. Secret Service; the U.S. Coast Guard Investigative Service; the FBI; the U.S. Postal Inspection Service; and the Port of Seattle Police Department.  BEST Seattle investigates smuggling and related crimes and combats criminal organizations seeking to exploit vulnerabilities at the Seattle and Tacoma seaports and adjacent waterways.

The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Matthew Diggs.

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