Dealer Admits Guilt in Art Forgery Case

Times Staff Writer

A San Diego art dealer pleaded guilty Tuesday to six counts of grand theft in connection with a scheme that included selling forged works he claimed were done by the late Olaf Wieghorst, a renowned Western artist who lived in El Cajon.

Louis Almeida, owner of the Brentwood Custom Frames & Gallery, entered his plea in front of Municipal Judge Robert J. Cooney before the start of a scheduled preliminary hearing. Almeida, 49, faces as long as 7 1/2 years in state prison when he is sentenced July 20.

As part of Almeida’s agreement to plead guilty to six counts, the district attorney’s office dropped six other counts of grand theft.


Placed on Consignment

According to authorities, the scheme began in November, 1982, when Almeida began selling Wieghorst paintings and sketches placed on consignment by their owners.

In some cases, Almeida had the works copied or photographed. The photographed forgeries were placed on canvas and shellacked to give the appearance of an oil painting. Almeida would then sell the originals and return forged copies to the owners. Almeida is not believed to have painted the forgeries himself, Assistant Dist. Atty. Lantz Lewis said.

The works involved are two paintings--”Watering His Pony,” also known as “Evening Drink,” and “Arizona Trails”--and a charcoal sketch from 1939 titled “Bucking Bronco.”

Investigators have been able to locate the original “Watering His Pony” and “Bucking Bronco,” but the original “Arizona Trails” remains missing. So far, only two forged copies of the work have been recovered, Lewis said. Investigators said the value of the three originals ranges from $8,000 to $50,000.

Lewis placed the amount involved in the fraud--because more than one copy was made--at $200,000 and said Almeida has pledged to make some restitution to the victims.

May Produce Painting

Leif Tessem, the lawyer for Almeida, said Almeida hoped the restitution might lessen his sentence, but said the money owed is closer to $125,000. Tessem also said there is a possibility that the original “Arizona Trails” may be produced before sentencing.

“We think we know where it is,” Tessem said in an interview.

Almeida’s scheme was discovered when Dr. Frank L. Pavel, a San Diego dentist, became suspicious and took his copy of “Watering His Pony” to Wieghorst and his son, Roy, to authenticate it, Lewis said. The Wieghorsts declared it a forgery, Lewis said.

Lewis said Almeida first became acquainted with Wieghorst, who died last April 27, while working as a framer at another San Diego art gallery. He said Almeida eventually became Wieghorst’s personal framer and later began dealing in Wieghorst’s art when he opened his own gallery.

Cooney permitted Almeida to remain free on his own recognizance while awaiting sentencing, but ordered that he not sell or buy art during that time.