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Renton man sentenced to prison for selling fake Chihuly glasswork

A 35-year-old Renton man was sentenced Wednesday to five months in prison for fraud for advertising and selling glass artwork he claimed was made by artist Dale Chihuly, announced U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.

Besides the prison term, Michael Little was sentenced in U.S. District Court to three years of supervised release, including five months in a halfway house, and $75,389 in restitution.

The deception was discovered after several purchasers asked an expert to examine the pieces, according to a federal press release.

Little 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 the release.  He continued his sales scheme even after eBay removed some of the postings, and PayPal reversed one of the purchases after being alerted to the fraud, according to the release.

Little posted and sold the art in person, online and through a Renton auction house.

U.S. District Judge Robert S. Lasnik imposed the sentence.

“This defendant was persistent and creative in his fraud that recycled ordinary glass into costly works of art,” said U.S. Attorney Jenny A. Durkan.  “Fraud schemes like this one target all artists and damage confidence in the online marketplace.”

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 release.  He marketed the works via 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 release.

Little told various stories to potential buyers about how he had acquired the Chihuly work, including that his family had purchased the pieces after winning the lottery.  As early as 2011, PayPal had reversed one purchase, and eBay had removed some of Little's postings after being alerted to the fraud.

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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